Election 2020: Superintendent of Public Instruction – Candidate Questionnaire Response

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Chris Reykdal

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 incumbent Chris Reykdal.

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

ANSWER: Pre-COVID, the best thing happening in public education was the transformation to a more student-centered system:

  • Additional resources to support student with disabilities, including a first-ever financial incentive for districts that are increasing the amount of time student with disabilities spend in general education settings
  • Expansion of early learning programs provided in our K-12 schools
  • Transition kindergarten programs for four year old student who benefit from a jump-start in kindergarten to ensure they meet learning standards by the end of their traditional kindergarten year
  • Transition kindergarten programs for four year old student who benefit from a jump-start in kindergarten to ensure they meet learning standards by the end of their traditional kindergarten year
  • Dual language programs beginning in kindergarten expanded to 40 districts
  • Record high graduation rates even as student are taking more math and science
  • Career and technical education pathways for graduation and earning industry credentials while in high school

Post-COVID, the best thing is that we are learning to fully embrace technology. In-person learning is still superior for most students, but when we emerge from COVID, more digital access and more online coursework options will be the norm. We are also learning to focus on fewer learning standards that we go deeper into, instead of covering too much material an inch deep.

The first 100 days will include advancing legislation to the Governor and the Legislature that asks them to make internet connectivity a basic education right for all students.

Chris Reykdal

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: The first 100 days will include advancing legislation to the Governor and the Legislature that asks them to make internet connectivity a basic education right for all students. We will also demand that we have the resources for COVID testing to ensure that districts can re-open in a sustainable way – random sampling like we see in New York to ensure case counts remain low, and rapid testing for students and staff that present symptoms. We need the Legislature to act quickly!

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: Our State had not made it a priority until the last four years. We have now added substantial resources, trained over 30,000 teachers on inclusive practices, and adopted a small financial incentive for districts that increase time in general education classrooms. These reforms were just kicking in when COVID hit. I look forward to bringing them to scale and beginning our ascent as a more inclusive state!

We need to contextualize reading. Recent research makes clear that reading scores improve the most when students read in the context of another subject – specifically social studies.

Chris Reykdal

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: There are two things we need to do: 1) We have to move away from “whole language” as a stand-alone instructional model (just read so much that you eventually get it…) to the science of reading – phonemic awareness and phonics. The science of reading has been in place for a long time, we need to make this shift using Learning Assistance Program funds as the incentive dollars. 2) We need to contextualize reading. Recent research makes clear that reading scores improve the most when students read in the context of another subject – specifically social studies. Social studies showed more gains in reading in the early grades than a specific focus on English Language Arts (ELA). We can read for fun and with purpose, while learning history, civics, cultures, and more.

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: Our initial response, when so much was unknown, was spot on. In fact all 50 states shut down last Spring. Some of those states shut down for the year. We pushed into remote learning. Our re-opening plans published in June were also solid, led by public health experts, but cases really spiked after 4th of July. The collective failure of this pandemic, as it relates to schools, is the lack of testing. Seven months later, there is still no national strategy on testing, and no sustainable supply of antigen tests or active virus PCR tests. We have distributed over 300,000 devices for online learning and made over 60,000 internet connections for families. We have federal funds for another 60,000, but there will still be families not connected due to their remote nature or lack of infrastructure in their community.

Local districts are now coordinating with their local health officials and are slowly re-opening, beginning with some targeted student groups who need more immediate support and early grades. The biggest challenge now is just how different local public health officials interpret local health data and just how differently they are advising districts on their re-openings.

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

ANSWER: I got in a heated exchange on the playground in 6th grade with my best friend at the time (it was a fight without punches thrown). My teacher, Mrs. Cruz, locked us in her room after school and wouldn’t let us walk home until we talked it through and recognized each others’ point of view. We didn’t have the labels back then, but this was a classic social emotional learning strategy. It was restorative, it was healing, and it was immediate so it didn’t fester. I never forgot that and I used those kinds of strategies when I was a teacher. I still keep in touch with that friend 37 years later! πŸ™‚

Want to learn more about Chris Reykdal’s campaign? You can visit his 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.