Personal endorsement: Penny Kotterman for Education Superintendent

by David Safier

I'm breaking a BfA tradition by making an endorsement in the primary. But since I blog about education so often, I feel like I've earned the right to chime in on the Democratic race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

First let me say, both Penny Kotterman and Jason Williams are miles above any of the Republican candidates for the position. When I've heard the two of them in recent forums, both have presented ideas that promise to be a vast improvement over what Arizona has seen in recent years.

If I thought one of them had a better chance of winning the general, I would support that candidate, but honestly, I think both have the same underdog's chance of beating Huppenthal, who I assume will be the Republican candidate.

That being said, I have a strong preference for Kotterman.

One thing I like about Kotterman is her lengthy classroom experience — 18 years spent at a number of levels in the K-12 system. As a 30 year veteran of the classroom, I want a Superintendent who will envision children and classrooms when making decisions, not just theory and spreadsheets.There is no substitute for a deep, personal understanding of what goes on in the classroom day by day when you're thinking about what will help move children forward academically, socially and emotionally.

Williams taught a few years (three, I think). That's valuable, but I'm not sure it's enough time for the classroom and the children to seep into his bloodstream.

I also like Kotterman's experience as a certified, "traditional" teacher over Williams' experience with Teach for America. Without getting into the pluses and minuses of Teach for America, the TFA concept is a non-traditional model where intelligent people who have a desire to teach go through a short, intensive training period, then step into the classroom.

Conservatives are pushing for all kinds of school choice models these days, including the de-professionalizing of teaching. Not all of their proposals are bad, but the motive behind their ideas is to hack away at traditional public education until they transform or destroy it.

Kotterman, because of her background, is more likely to fight smarter and harder against these incursions into this country's great but flawed tradition of public education. My concern is that Williams, because of his background, will acquiesce to conservative proposals more readily.

The same thing goes for Kotterman's tenure as President of the Arizona Education Association. She understands, as do I, that the union makes mistakes, but she also understands how important the union's role is in protecting children's educations by standing up for teachers. Our Republican legislators have a visceral hatred of the teacher's union, and pretty much all unions. If they had their way, they would not just make this a "Right to Work" state. They would ban unions entirely.

Because of her time at the helm of the AEA working with the legislature and fending off conservative attacks, Kotterman has years of experience working in the political/educational arena. She will carry that invaluable experience into the Education Superintendent's office, which will make her a stronger advocate for what's right with teachers' unions, and also put her in an excellent position to negotiate with the unions and arrive at compromises that assure the proper balance between teacher rights and teacher quality.

Finally, I trust Kotterman's seriousness and integrity. I know it's a cliche, but I think she is determined to put children first when she is in office. To be honest, I've had the chance to sit down and talk with her on a few occasions, which has led to my sense of trust in her capabilities and her determination. I've never sat down and talked with Williams. But I'm a voter who listens to his gut instincts as well as his intellect when he's selecting between two reasonably qualified candidates.

A NOTE TO COMMENTERS: I expect and welcome comments on this post. But no cheap shots. No bashing of either candidate. If you do, I'll simply delete your comment, and whatever reasonable points you made will be lost along with the slams you may have thrown in.

I've tried to be honest and fair in my endorsement. Please do the same in your comments.

0 responses to “Personal endorsement: Penny Kotterman for Education Superintendent

  1. Philip D. thanks for your comments, you are so right! I am so sick of the privateers (so-called reformers) and their sacharine and fake mantra of “for the children.” Most educators I know went into education because they wanted to serve kids, that’s a frickin’ no-brainer. It IS about saving our PUBLIC school system!

    @David Safier, glad I stumbled across your blog.

  2. Francine Shacter

    Response to Philip D: You sure got that right!!!!!!!


    I couldn’t agree more with your views on the race for Supt. of Public Instruction. Last election cycle I completely supported Jason Williams because he was the better candidate. This year is different because, once again, there IS a better, more experienced candidate, Penny Kotterman. I am a public school teacher and I have sat and spoken with both candidates. Both are bright, capable educators who have a specific vision for education in AZ… It only take a few minutes to discern the more experienced person in every area… It is Penny!

  4. David Safier

    Your choice, Publius. But when something is as vile and inflammatory as that comment, I don’t think it should be on the blog.

    Here are the criteria I use. If someone is attempting to hijack the post by going in a completely separate direction. I”ll often delete it. If a post is filled with invective, spewing hate and sometimes making veiled and not-so-veiled threats. I’ll usually delete it.

    If someone is reasonably on topic and disagrees with what I or commenters have written, that will stay. I encourage debate.

    It may be that you don’t know other blogs and MSM web sites delete comments. It’s not a rare occurrence.

  5. Mr. Safier:

    I haven’t seen either candidate, nor have I heard them speak, so your information here is very helpful.

    One important point though:

    You say “she is determined to put children first when she is in office.” That’s a good, standard, traditional line of thought. But I want more. I think it’s time to assert a different line of thought: “She (or He) will protect and promote the institution of public education.”

    Protecting and promoting this vital public institution is _the_ key issue nowadays. We all know how the Republicans and their Libertarian Goldwater types have been working to destroy this institution in order to save the state money and reduce the tax burden of their donors.

    The kids are, frankly, doing very well. I know this sounds a bit like heresy. But it is true. No matter what criteria used to measure, public education is doing better than it ever has in America. Higher graduation rates, more attending college, higher test scores, higher SAT scores, more achievement by minority students, more women going into the sciences like engineering, on and on and on, all the data shows public schools do better than they ever have. Better than the 50’s, better than the 60’s, better than the 70’s, better than ever before. Heck, 200 people show up for each and every job opening, and they all have the education and skills necessary to do the job, no matter if it’s an engineer at Raytheon, or a night manager at Holiday Inn. Our public education system produces what our economy needs.

    We know how to teach kids, we know how to effectively enable them to develop the type of academic skills necessary to be thoughtful and successful people, so we don’t need a Superintendent of Public Instruction to be an advocate for the kids as much as we need a Superintendent of Public Instruction to be an advocate for public education itself!

    We need a strong, dynamic, forceful, charismatic, TV-interview ready superintendent who can effectively counter the B.S. coming out of the insidious Goldwater Institute and their troglodyte toadies in the Republican-led legislature. We need a candidate who knows enough to go out and make a strong, very persuasive case in all the public forums possible why public education is necessary and needs to be promoted rather than destroyed.

    Darcy Olsen goes on Arizona Illustrated and completely snookers Bill Buckmaster. All the insidious crap you already know about gets spread out there in the public mind without a filter or B.S. detector. The Republican legislators go out on all the radio stations and repeat her talking points ad nauseum,. SO this is politics! The issue is not the unions, not the bureaucracy, not AIMS, not putting kids first. The issue is funding, protecting and promoting the institution of public education itself, in a very publicly political way. And the key variable for me is who can go out in public and make the best impression and the best case with the most people. We’re in a battle and we need somebody with the smarts and cajones to go out there and kick _ss!

  6. “I’ll simply delete your comment”

    With all due respect, I’ve never heard of a respected left-leaning blog censoring comments for cheap shots or anything else. Never. If that is how things will be run over here I don’t even have the desire to read the content published on the pages of BfA. Censorship is a favorite trick taken out of the conservative playbook.

    I could not disagree with you more (I really mean that) on this issue Mr. Safier.