In Our View: Jones for State Schools Chief

Political outsider will be inspirational leader for public-school system

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Erin Jones is the kind of inspirational, enthusiastic, infectious leader who can make a palpable difference in the state’s education policy. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote for Jones as state superintendent of public instruction.

As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian has faith in the desire and the ability of the public to examine the issues and candidates before casting an informed ballot. Voters will be selecting a successor for Randy Dorn, who did not seek re-election.

An examination of the race for the nonpartisan superintendent position will reveal two strong candidates, with Jones facing state Rep. Chris Reykdal. Both contenders demonstrate the skills necessary to perform the job well, but Jones’ approach is one that could be transformative and produce lasting benefits for students throughout the public-education system.

With a career in education — she has worked as a teacher and in the office of the last two state superintendents — Jones qualifies as a political outsider. As The Seattle Times noted, her coalition of supporters “mixes progressives with right-wingers, labor groups and business leaders.” She has attracted diverse support through a dynamic personality and by stressing a need for the superintendent’s office to engage with schools and teachers at the grass-roots level. “The staff of OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) must be visible beyond the walls of the physical building in Olympia in order to represent adequately the needs of students and staff across the state,” she writes. In an interview with the Editorial Board, she said, “OSPI has been known for everything that happens in Olympia stays in Olympia.”

Change does not come easily or quickly to an system that is deeply entrenched. Nor would we suggest that a complete transformation is necessary. But Jones would provide a fresh and energetic perspective that suggests anything is possible and that there always is room for improvement. “Our responsibility is to do what’s best for school systems,” she said, emphasizing student outcomes and the closing of inequities in student opportunities.

Those inequities were at the heart of the 2012 state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. Washington, which determined that the state is not adequately funding K-12 education. The need to come up with a funding plan during next year’s legislative session emphasizes the strengths of Reykdal and his experience as a lawmaker. A former teacher who is in his third term as a state representative, Reykdal stresses the need for levy reform and would consider a capital-gains tax to increase school funding. He has been endorsed by the Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers union, and stresses that poverty is the most difficult barrier to closing achievement gaps throughout the state.

But Jones, we believe, has a superior ability to bring together students, parents, educators, and lawmakers in raising Washington’s educational system to new heights. She has a record of being a champion for innovation and possesses a deep understanding of the needs of students, ranging from high achievers to those with special needs.

As Jami Lund of conservative think tank Freedom Foundation told The Seattle Times: “In education, we’re not looking at conservative vs. liberal. What we’re looking at is change vs. status quo, and Erin Jones, in my view, is Team Change.”

Because of that, The Columbian recommends a vote for Erin Jones as Superintendent of Public Instruction.