Election 2020: Superintendent of Public Instruction – Candidate Questionnaire Response

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Maia Espinoza

Of all the candidates and ballot measures voters in Washington will consider this November, the race to lead the Office Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is one that arguably has the most direct impact on public education in our state.

Eastside Education Network sent the two candidates, incumbent Chris Reykdal and challenger Maia Espinoza, a questionnaire developed with feedback from our network and input from our board. The questions touch on topics of longstanding concern to EEN (e.g., reading instruction, education of students with disabilities) as well as newer challenges (education in the time of coronavirus). We did not impose a word limit for responses, however we did encourage the candidates to keep their answers relatively succinct. Each candidate received the same questions.

Here are the responses from challenger Maia Espinoza.

QUESTION: What in your view is the best thing happening right now in K-12 public schools in Washington state?

ANSWER: Increased parental engagement. Parents work in partnership with schools to educate their kids, and right now, parents across Washington continue to step up in even greater ways. My opponent Chris Reykdal pushed through a disastrous comprehensive sex ed bill even after his own survey showed they didn’t want it. I saw parents in dozens of cities and towns gather signatures to put that radical bill up for a vote on the ballot this fall, and they did it–it’s on the ballot as R-90.

On top of that, Reykdal has encouraged school closures beyond what is reasonable, so for months now, many parents have been the primary educators for their children at home. I know so many parents who are doubling up on work and teaching right now, and it’s tough, especially if you’re a teacher and a parent! Ultimately, we will come through this pandemic with parents who know better than ever what challenges their kids are facing, what tools their kids need to succeed, and what steps they can take with me and other leaders to move powers back to local levels as much as we can and away from Olympia politicians.

QUESTION: What are three things you would do in the first 100 days of your 1st or 2nd term as Superintendent of Public Instruction?

ANSWER: My first priority will be to answer the call of parents, teachers and communities by bringing resolution to the recently passed sexual education policy. Referendum 90 will determine if the law is repealed. If it is not, I will immediately work to provide additional curriculum options so that school districts across the state may comfortably comply with the new law. Local schools know what’s best for their communities.

In order to address and respond to school closures, we must assess student learning so teachers can do their jobs safely and effectively. The lengthy school closures have put students far behind and have left teachers in a lurch. We can use technology to regularly monitor student progress and support continued learning inside and outside of the classroom.

We must uphold our constitutional obligation to provide an education to all of Washington’s students. We should honor school choice by providing resources directly to parents such as a per student stipend so that every student has access to education. One of the benefits of the lockdown is that parents have gotten to know their kids’ educational needs even more intimately than before. We should honor that wisdom by supporting parental choice.

Students with disabilities dream dreams that are just as big as anyone else, and I want to help position them to reach those goals.

Maia Espinoza

QUESTION: Washington state earns low marks for its success at including students with disabilities in regular classrooms. What do you believe is holding our state back on that front and how would you change it?

ANSWER: I want to first give a hand to everyone who is engaging with disabilities in our schools: the children who succeed despite their disabilities, the parents who sacrifice to support their kids, and the teachers and aides who build bridges across disabilities and draw these children into inclusion.

Where I think our state can do better at inclusion is in our use of technology to unlock possibilities for more personalized learning. For teachers and aides working with children with disabilities, we must free them up from administrative work, grading, and tracking class progress so that they can devote more individual attention to students. During COVID, many students with disabilities have been completely forgotten by the politicians currently running our state’s schools. We need to act now to ensure they have a safe and effective learning environment.

Students with disabilities dream dreams that are just as big as anyone else, and I want to help position them to reach those goals. We need to help them do that with increased support and resources for paraeducators and real educational opportunities both during and after COVID. No child should be left without the resources they need because our current Superintendent can’t figure out how to provide education for thousands of kids across Washington.

QUESTION: Reading unlocks the doors to nearly all other types of learning. Research suggests reading levels for 3rd graders are predictive of high school graduation rates and other long-term outcomes. What should OSPI do to support and improve reading instruction across all grades?

ANSWER: Step one: refocus our priorities. Chris Reykdal has gone off on wild ideological rampages like the comprehensive sex ed bill while around half of our children still aren’t reading at grade level. That loss of focus is devastating. Let’s stop letting adult issues of ideology distract us from student issues of basic achievement and figure out nonpartisan ways to reach simple goals like getting more kids reading better. Certainly we can all agree on that!

Once we focus back in on reading, writing and core skills the question really is around how we empower children to love reading for life. I’m not in the pocket of any interest group or union. I want to talk to experts who know best–librarians and authors can be key resources in helping foster this joy of learning. I want what works for our children, and to figure that out, we should let local districts sample different methods, track the results, and see what works. Any model that does well is one that we can then share with other districts in the hopes it will lower barriers there as well.

The instructional time our children are losing right now is estimated to cost them tens of thousands of dollars in their future earnings. We are condemning parents to poverty as they are being asked to choose between educating their children over jobs.

Maia Espinoza

QUESTION: How would you grade our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to schools? Looking back, what might we have done differently? Which states should we look to/are we talking to about how to manage the transition back to in-person learning?

ANSWER: The state has failed in its response. It’s sad to look at Washington and see my opponent encouraging public schools to remain closed and allowing for profit organizations to use the same facilities to operate if parents can pay. In addition, many private schools are open and doing fine, thus continuing to widen the ever growing opportunity gap. We had six months to prepare after schools closed in the Spring but had no leadership or plans to facilitate learning come Fall.

The instructional time our children are losing right now is estimated to cost them tens of thousands of dollars in their future earnings. We are condemning parents to poverty as they are being asked to choose between educating their children over jobs.

If there is a good outcome, it’s that this crisis has provided an opportunity to update public education in our state. Rather than resurrecting a 19th-century school model, we have the chance to design a system that works better for teachers and working families, while preparing students for the demands of the future economy.

Washington is home to major tech innovation, yet our schools were inadequately supported for continued learning. Schools can offer a larger array of classes while streamlining administrative work like grading and analyzing class progress. Using education technology to support teachers in classrooms can help students who are struggling get caught up while allowing advanced students to continue progressing.

The science is clear that we can reopen schools safely with significant precautions taken and start getting our kids on track toward better educational outcomes. I support local control and will be a forward-thinking, solutions-oriented thought partner.

QUESTION: What was your most memorable experience as a student during your school years? (could be positive, negative or anything)

I was a military brat and moved all over the country. Little did I know I was getting the chance to live through an experiment in comparative school management! Even as a kid, I could tell which neighborhoods and which states had the better schools. Unfortunately, Washington state is one of the states with the strongest disparities, in my opinion. I love this state and I know we can do better. Our kids deserve better.

One of my fondest memories of school was during my freshman year of high school where I met my future husband. Our teacher read a book of Hispanic heritage and mispronounced several words which I sensed other students found funny. I grabbed Mr. Espinoza after class and convinced him to come with me to talk to our teacher. After she thanked us for correcting her and sparing her the future embarrassment, we (for whatever reason) started talking politics! My husband would go on to work with Democratic and Republican elected officials. I would eventually work in bipartisan organizations. Both of us continue to serve our community through nonprofit and government work, valuing the solutions that come from debate and understanding.

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Want to learn more about Maia Espinoza’s campaign? You can visit her website here.

You can reach the campaign with your questions or comments at this email address: [email protected].

By way of background, here is what OSPI does: “OSPI is the primary agency charged with overseeing public K–12 education in Washington state. Working with the state’s 295 public school districts and 6 state-tribal education compact schools, OSPI allocates funding and provides tools, resources, and technical assistance so every student in Washington is provided a high-quality public education.”

Learn more about the mission and work of OSPI here at their website.