The term is four years with compensation of $92,000. There is no term limit.
- What are your qualifications for the office you seek? (75 words)
Jillian Balow (R): I am a 10-yr teaching veteran, fifth generation Wyomingite and spent my life living and working in Wyoming’s schools, private sector and government. I left the classroom to be a leader in state government. There, I improved education, worked with communities to meet goals, streamlined government and saved taxpayer money. I now lead a staff of nearly 200 and oversee a multimillion dollar per month budget. I will lead the state out of an education system overtaken by politics.
Mike Ceballos (D): After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree my 30-year career with Qwest Communications concluded with 14 years as President of its Wyoming operations. I collaborated successfully with Legislatures, executive offices, community leaders, and the public, and retired in 2011 to start a doctorate in education leadership at UW. At the request of past Governors and Superintendents, I served on a number of education committees, and currently serve on the McREL board, a national education non-profit.
Sheryl Lain (R): I have worked in Wyoming’s schools for more than 40 years as a teacher, administrator, literacy coach, and instructional facilitator. My work in schools across the state has resulted in improved student achievement. I bring a wide breadth and depth of education experience and a keen understanding of how policy decisions play out in Wyoming’s classrooms where our teachers and students must have time and latitude to do the work of authentic and engaged learning.
Bill Winney (R): Experience: Naval Nuclear Power Program: Chalkboard teacher for two years, directly responsible for Officer Students, supervised Enlisted Student education. B.S. Oceanography, U.S. Naval Academy, 1972; M.S. Engineering Management, The Catholic University of America, 2000. More importantly observed my wife teach, and cope with, many education administrations many times during my Naval Service. Supervised large organizations, their training and education programs and their budgets. I understand how to get a bureaucracy to be responsive.
- Explain why you do or do not support the entirety of the Next Generation Science Standards as being part of Wyoming’s K-12 educational standards. (100 words)
Jillian Balow (R): The NGSS are a starting point, not an endpoint, for Wyoming’s science standards. Rhetoric is focused on problems. I focus on solutions. We need palatable and rigorous science standards so our students are competitive locally and globally. I have spent time over the past several months talking with partners in the agriculture and energy industries. They are enthused when we discuss science standards that include Wyoming topics such as agriculture, our energy industry, our unique geology and ecology and more. This is a natural partnership and education needs to do a better job of including more folks at the table.
Mike Ceballos (D): I support the Science Standards. The conflict over two small parts is prohibiting the desperately needed upgrade of the entire set of science standards. The State Board of Education’s decision to stop all work on them is understandable. It halts the Department’s current valueless process and puts the issue squarely in front of the Legislature. Reinventing work that has already been accomplished is pointless, as long as that work can be adapted to Wyoming’s needs. This work needs to be done well and quickly; Wyoming should not have to wait to have modern, rigorous science standards.
Sheryl Lain (R): I support rigorous Wyoming standards informed by input from stakeholders. The NGSS are detailed to the point of influencing curriculum and day to day classroom instruction. I also worry, given what we are finding out about Common Core standards, that two of the downsides of the Common Core will plague the NGSS – first that this is a path to a national standardized test tied to teacher evaluations, and second, that wholesale adoption of NGSS will result in loss of rigor and richness in Wyoming education as school districts focus on performing well on the narrowed content in the standards.
Bill Winney (R): As I have traveled the state it is near universal when a teacher comes to the door that they do not like NGSS because they tell teachers how to run their classrooms coupled with a presumption that all students mature at nearly the same rate. A good idea has run aground on how a bureaucracy implements it. I do not support the present NGSS.
- What are the greatest challenges facing the office and how will you address them in the coming four years? (100 words)
Jillian Balow (R): There is a great deal of healing that needs to be done in Wyoming education. Partnerships with local boards, school districts, the State Board, and the legislature are fragmented at best. I have the ability and credibility to mend the system through leadership, collaboration and coordination. There is no time for a learning curve. I will hit the ground running to heal a broken system while assuring stakeholders have what they need to be successful. I will rebuild partnerships, identify gaps, and move to assure that Wyoming taxpayers are getting a better return on their significant investment in education…
Mike Ceballos (D): What is needed first at the Department of Education is a Superintendent with significant leadership and management experience. The last three and half years under the Department’s current leadership have been a complete loss to the citizens of Wyoming. The new Superintendent must be able to quickly rebuild a Department that has been torn apart by poor leadership. This will require professional management to reengage all the stakeholders and the public. A business person who values and understands education and is experienced in managing a large complex organization is exactly what is required to provide stability.
Sheryl Lain (R): I believe the greatest challenges are all related to creating a common vision for the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in Wyoming education. I will address these challenges by seeking to balance the call for accountability at the state level with the critical need for teachers and local districts to have autonomy and engagement in their work with our students. This means seeking meaningful input directly from stakeholders at the local district and classroom level, not hiring more out of state consultants. I have addressed these challenges at the classroom, building, and district level and will do so again.
Bill Winney (R): The greatest challenge is filling a vacuum in leadership. Our legislature has assumed the role of a “super school board” and this is in reality holding our education system back. I will work to put confidence in them and to move them back into legislating an overarching system but not the details. Allied with this is the enormous testing regimen our students and teachers face. It has become counterproductive. I will work with our legislature to reduce this unproductive and “taxing” overhead within our system.
Questions 4- 8 posed by the Cheyenne League of Women Voters.
4. The Superintendent of Public Instruction is part politician, part educational leader, part administrator for the Department of Education. How important is the administrative role particularly regarding fiscal and personnel management skills?
Jillian Balow (R): On day one, I will assure that the WDE is an agency that provides adequate and predictable funding, technical assistance to school districts, and advocacy for a quality education system. This in only accomplished when we put aside controversial politics and bring in stellar, proven and steadfast leadership, educational expertise and administrative success. I have all of this. I was a teacher for ten years and have been in state government leadership for the past eight years. The importance of being a great administrator cannot be underestimated. As the current administrator for family assistance programs in Wyoming, I have the experience and success of administering impactful programs, a large statewide staff, and a large budget. Additionally: I create and uphold a climate where employees and stakeholders are valued. I understand and follow state and federal laws. I lead and manage ethically and conservatively. I value competitive bidding for contracts. I know how to coordinate and complete large projects. I have credibility with staff and stakeholders. I am ready to do all that is necessary to recruit, retain and empower excellent staff at the Wyoming Department of Education and heal a system.
Bill Winney (R): The administrative skills required of the Superintendent are necessary but not sufficient for success. A true leader employs skills that identify problems and weaknesses within the organization, seeks independent input across all facets, and then formulates corrective action. The element of seeking independent input is critical to success, without unvarnished input the system easily becomes a “self-licking ice cream cone.” Thus the Superintendent must be the Chief Advocate for Education in Wyoming. The Superintendent’s ability to envision what General Supervision of Education means, in enlisting the support of the legislature, and in seeking the cooperation of the many School Boards of Wyoming is critical. Without a properly run administrative system underlying the Superintendent’s actions none of these skills will generate confidence in other organizations. Yet, in the end, “good administration” alone will never produce the results the Legislature has struggled for across at least a decade.
Mike Ceballos (D): The administrative role is at the heart of any well managed state agency. If the Superintendent can’t get the fiscal and personnel management right the operation won’t run. As we have seen with the current administration they failed Management and Leadership 101. My skills as a business executive, including 14 years as the Wyoming President of a large complex telecommunications company, set me apart from the other candidates. I have managed large budgets and complicated projects. I have taken new initiatives and put them into effect, while managing the fiscal aspects and bringing them in on time and within budget.
Regarding personnel management, the job of the Superintendent is to find, hire and retain the best people to help run the Department.The current administration clearly failed personnel management as well.The Department must first be stabilized and an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust reestablished.There are many talented employees and they deserve the support of the Superintendent.I will make fiscal and personnel management top priorities in my administration.
5. Do you support the Legislature’s efforts to create a system of accountability for districts, schools and administrators?
Jillian Balow (R): Our legislature wisely took on the task of creating a statewide system of accountability. Any quality system or culture must be accountable to measures of success. The problem is that The current State Superintendent’s unwillingness to implement or work on improving the state accountability system has led to the legislature taking a heavier hand in education than is necessary. I intend to work with the legislature and stakeholders to improve our state accountability system so that it yields excellent information about return on taxpayer investment and student performance. We will have a system that is meaningful to local school boards and school districts because it fits into their local systems of accountability and moves us further from the doomed No Child Left Behind system.
Bill Winney (R): Yes. However, as an element of leadership, it must be understood that if “accountability” is the main thrust of leadership that leadership is focused on “making people perform.” The reality of leadership is that when that is how one leads, that leader has actually lost control. As a backdrop within the system it is an appropriate element. Yet the leaders of the organization must transcend that approach and seek self motivation of our “frontline soldiers” to work with the leaders.
Mike Ceballos (D): Yes. Accountability is important in every organization, particularly one that is charged with the futures of about 92,000 students and that spends about 900 million dollars per year of public funds. Accountability systems are complex, as the Legislature has learned over the last several years. The system must balance multiple priorities and objectives. The accountability system is evaluating students, teachers, schools and districts, as well as giving the State information that is useful in making judgments about how the system is performing as a whole. While we need a strong accountability system I am very concerned that our commitment to high stakes testing is adversely impacting learning. We need multiple measures of assessment – other than strictly testing – in a reliable and valid accountability system. One of my first priorities will be to initiate discussions with the Legislature and all stakeholders regarding how to gather the assessment data we need without imposing excessive test taking burdens on teachers, students and parents.
6. The Constitution gives the Legislature responsibility to fund schools and facilities at a level that assures all children a quality education. Yet the Constitution also tasks the superintendent with general supervision of education. How do you see the relationship between the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Legislature? Could you work with all legislators, including the House and Senate Education Committees?
Jillian Balow (R): The relationship does not need to be adversarial. The chief responsibility of the State Superintendent is to advocate for a quality education system in Wyoming. The role of the legislature is to assure adequate funding for a quality education. The Wyoming Constitution is clear and the most important decisions about education rest with local school districts and boards. My record working with all legislators, including the Joint Education Committee, is evidence of our confidence in one another and that fruitful disagreements and debates lead to better outcomes for the citizens of Wyoming. I have worked with our legislature on dozens of issues while a teacher and state government administrator and will continue to do so.
Bill Winney (R): Yes, I can work with our Legislature. It is important for the Superintendent to take due notice of how our government works: the Executive Branch proposes and the Legislative Branch disposes. No matter how much the Superintendent believes in something, if the Legislature takes another path, the Superintendent must carry forward with the laws of Wyoming. Our legislature has been seeking to solve a decade long weakness in education. What must occur is an ongoing dialogue between the Superintendent and key legislators. In this dialogue the Superintendent must formulate and communicate a vision, modify that vision during the dialogue, and finally execute it once laws are in place.
Mike Ceballos (D) Yes, I have a proven track record of working with all legislators, including the House and Senate Education Committees. I know most of the legislators personally and have spoken at length with both Chairmen. I respect the Legislature and its processes and believe strongly in the role that the Legislature plays to establish the laws that govern the delivery of education in Wyoming. The relationship between the Superintendent and the Legislature is the same as the general relationship between legislative and executive agencies. The Legislature makes the laws and the executive carries out the laws. I know from long experience that the Legislature is made up of men and women of good will and good intentions, doing their best to address the important problems of the State. If the two branches of government approach their jobs with an attitude of mutual respect and a desire to accomplish significant tasks then the important business of the people will get done. My experience is that the legislature values stable, thoughtful leadership. I believe the legislature has no desire to run the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE), and realizes the risks of micromanaging. WDE can and must reestablish trust and stability to listen and provide the sorely needed leadership for the benefit of Wyoming and our students.
7. If we turn down federal education funds, where does Wyoming get the money to replace the funds?
Jillian Balow (R): Wyoming does not have the means to sustain state funding for education within our general budget. It would be a grave mistake to turn away all federal funding for education. However, it is important to elect a conservative and experienced leader into the position of State Superintendent to maintain an appropriate balance of federal and state dollars and to be constantly vigilant against federal overreach. This is what I do every day as a state government administrator: scrutinize all federal funding to assure the strings attached are not too onerous for Wyoming citizens, push back the federal government when we are unable to achieve our goals because of federal regulations, and turn away federal funds that do not align with our state outcomes. Federal dollars are our tax dollars and we deserve to see them work for Wyoming children.
Bill Winney (R): The overall Federal portion of funding is large (42% both direct and indirect). Wyoming will have to make some hard choices. The reality is that Wyoming education is dependent on resource extraction. If that declines, either by a reduction in tax rates or because of a reduction in demand, Wyoming will have to fund the difference or reduce services. The choices for Wyoming become stark quickly: either tax rates must be increased (The Statewide 25 mil levy or local 6 mil school levy) or the return on School sections must be increased. Other inputs are smaller and cannot make up any large deficit. So long as the federal funds are tied only to specific federally sponsored programs and do not affect the larger federal funding stream (e.g. mineral royalties) then such a decision will have a small effect. The Legislature currently funds less than 1% of education from the General Fund. Yet even small things can disrupt a budget, so their decisions won’t come easily.
Mike Ceballos (D): I don’t know, the State has not had to deal with that issue yet and I don’t want to speculate on if it will occur. Obviously if federal funds are cut the State will have to find sources of funds within its own revenues. But I am hopeful that we can avoid a showdown with the Feds. When looking at all the sources of K-12 school revenues, federal support is under 10% of the overall budget. That said, 5% of the overall budget is close to 50 million dollars per year. There are many important benefits to both students and families from these programs, as well as many requirements and reports that must be undertaken. If an acceptable agreement can be reached, then it’s a goal worth working toward.
8. What is the value of statewide academic standards to guide the districts in writing curriculum? Who should write the standards?
Jillian Balow (R): As a teacher and parent I understand that rigorous and robust standards, provided by the state as a framework for school districts, is important. Good standards are the milestones that can show our kids are on-track to being career and college ready graduates and contributing citizens. We have standards that are higher than any we’ve had in Wyoming in Language Arts and Math. Nonetheless, it is clear that many voices were not heard in the 2011-2012 standards adoption process. Standards are on the minds of Wyoming citizens, Science and Common Core in particular. In my estimation, the public does not want to write standards. They do, however, want ample opportunity to vet, review, and evaluate standards before adoption by the State Board of Education. We have great examples of standards in Wyoming and other states that should be the starting point for standards writing. Drafts should be completed by WDE staff and willing educators, parents and stakeholders. The public input and editing process must be inclusive and transparent. I propose that this process last a minimum of two years and I will begin coordinating and collaborating with the State Board and local school boards on day one in office. 2017 standards will be reflective of the very best standards in the nation as well as Wyoming voices and values.
Bill Winney (R): Wyoming must write its standards. Clearly teachers and administrators must have standards to work to and be measured by. Our standards must have two goals: for those students moving on to college, they must be ready on graduation, for those students moving into the trades, they must be functional as a citizen and future employee with needed basic skills.
Mike Ceballos (D): Standards are expectations; they are an expression of what society believes our children should learn in their progression through the education system. The standards also ensure that a uniform and equal education is available to all students, regardless of zip code or family income. Standards are set at the state level; this insures that a student in a rural school has the same opportunity for a quality education as one at the schools in our biggest cities. Wyoming’s system of local control of education, which is enshrined in our Constitution and statutes, gives to local districts the powers to determine how the standards will be taught, what curriculums will be used and the text books and other materials that will be deployed in the classrooms. I support this division of authority between the state and the local districts. I believe we need to have rigorous standards and to expect excellence from our students and our school system. The Legislature decides the process of how the standards are set; currently, this involves a thorough process of drafting, review, public comment and protocols for adoption. The standards are then regularly reviewed to make sure they are up to date. Because of this thorough and legislatively mandated process, all standards adopted in Wyoming are proposed and approved by Wyoming citizens. What is critical now is to focus on implementing the standards, and supporting districts and teachers in how to use the standards as the basis for curriculum and materials.