During the 2018 election campaign in Arizona, one person personified the Cinderella theme of coming from nowhere to win statewide office.
No, it was not Katie Hobbs. It was not Kyrsten Sinema. It was the incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman.
A speech therapist, Hoffman achieved the “Impossible Dream” of Arizona electoral politics this year by her meteoritic rise to become the state’s top educator. She bested seasoned political veterans David Schipara in the August primaries and Frank Riggs in the November general elections. After Senator-Elect Sinema, she was the top vote-getter among Democrats.
A new star in the Democratic Party, Ms. Hoffman sat down with the Blog for Arizona a third time to reflect on her victory, discuss her transition, and chart a course for her first year in office. The questions and responses are below.
After Kyrsten Sinema, you were the highest votegetter among all the Democrats running for statewide office. You were also the person with arguably the least political experience among all the Democratic statewide candidates. Please explain at least two reasons you and your supporters were able to engineer your impressive electoral win.
“First, I was privileged and honored to be elected. It is our win and a win for public education and the voters who said public education is a priority and educators should be leading rather than career politicians. Education is a bipartisan issue and we had teachers working hard to support pro-education candidates. I think people were more sensitive because of Red for Ed and who they were voting for more than other races. It also helped that I was not running against an incumbent. My message was consistent and child-focused and people appreciated my (educational) background. Finally, I crisscrossed the state, especially in rural communities and I continue to do so.”
You have announced your chief of staff and transition team. Please explain the criteria for selecting these individuals and what are the tasks they are performing in preparation for your assuming office in January?
“I wanted a diverse group based on ethnicity, background, regionally (including Native American reservations like Chinle), experienced in both all the facets of public education including finance and interactions with the Arizona Department of Education. These individuals will help guide me to prioritize and get ready for January 7 (when she is sworn in.)
I chose chief of staff John Carruth from the Vail School District because he had the background in leading a district. I thought having an assistant superintendent would be a good to balance my strengths with his. He has a special education background (as a teacher, director, and associate superintendent). He sees the school district from multiple lenses and has opened multiple schools in a growing area (Vail). I also saw his leadership style and found it very thoughtful and compassionate in a district that has high teacher retention.”
When we last met, you outlined several goals that you wanted to pursue in your first months as Superintendent. After the election, you mentioned working on charter school reform. What are three other priorities that take precedence in your first year in office?
“In addition to charter school reform, I want to ease restrictions on ELL Students. I want the Department of Education to become an agency of service, that works internally to make sure staff is well trained. I want the Department to be partnering in creating professional development for educators especially in rural Arizona. I am also committed to building partnerships with all the seats I am on the board of (State Board for Education, Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, and the Arizona Board of Regents). I want to be inclusive and create a team of community. I am optimistic that through by improving the data the Department of Education (compiles) and how we use the data so that teachers can use best practices and professional development to ensure student success. Finally, I will be working on increasing funding for special education (by 2020) where there is a lot of bipartisan support.”
Have you met with Governor Ducey and discussed a common ground agenda on education this year? Please explain where you both agreed and disagreed.
“I have had one phone call (with Governor Ducey) and met his staff. I plan to meet with him in January (to further discuss) opportunities. I will be meeting with current Superintendent Douglas and other Education Department heads this week.” She will also be meeting with the leading education legislators in the House and Senate in the next week as well.
You have been spending time since the last election touring the state and visiting school districts some of your predecessors never journeyed to. Please tell us about that experience.
“One of my favorite parts going into the job is learning about the schools (across the state) and their concerns and achievements. Some have commented that they are so excited to have a superintendent visit their school. I will continue visiting districts (even in rural and remote areas) after being inaugurated.”
What are at least two themes you will touch on in your first speech as Superintendent?
“I am looking forward to being the voice for public education and elevating the voices of teachers and students. I will also stress that Arizona’s future starts in our schools.”
Where does Invest in Ed stand right now and would you support the push for a new proposition?
“I am glad that stakeholders including Invest in Ed are partnering with the business community. We need to have more stakeholders at the table. will support sustainable forces for funding for our schools.”
If Ms. Hoffman performs as Superintendent the way she did in the 2018 campaign, then a lot of students, families, and educators will be well served during her tenure. She offers an inclusive, pragmatic, and progressive agenda, supported by well-qualified and experienced assistants whose sole mission is to secure the future of the state by moving our student’s and their schools forward. Hopefully, the remaining Republicans who did not lose this election season will find merit in what Ms. Hoffman and her team offers and finds common ground to advance the cause of education for our children and schools.