Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Jennifer Zerba said she decided to join the race last-minute because she was “alarmed” at the platforms of other candidates and wanted to give voters another option.
There are six candidates running for the superintendent’s post, five as Republicans and one as a Democrat. Gov. Mark Gordon appointed the current superintendent, Brian Schroeder, to the job in January after former superintendent Jillian Balow left to take a similar job in Virginia. Schroeder is among those running for election.
“We cannot allow children’s safety and well-being to become casualties of politicking in this state," one retired educator said of the Wyoming superintendent's statements on federal sexual orientation and gender identity policies.
Zerba, a Casper native, cosmetologist and Natrona County School District substitute teacher, filed her candidacy on May 27, the last day to do so.
She earned an associate’s degree in business administration from Casper College, a bachelor’s in business administration from Eastern Oregon University as well as a masters of public administration from the University of Wyoming and is currently getting a doctorate of education in learning, design and technology at UW. She has worked in various management, leadership and communication positions for over 17 years, including as a district director and chief executive and senior advisor for Toastmasters District 9 in Denver, Colorado.
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Here are Zerba’s positions on a few education topics:
On educator shortages
Zerba said Wyoming needs to make sure educators’ “mental, emotional and physical needs” are met.
“That starts with me communicating with them,” she said. “I envision myself walking the halls of our schools, getting to know our educators. I want to have an open-door policy, that they are welcome to come to me and talk to me.”
She thinks the Wyoming Teacher Apprenticeship Program, a new project of the Wyoming Department of Education meant to lower costs barriers for people who want to become teachers, is “another waste of money.” She thinks Wyoming already has plenty of options to lower financial barriers without making another program that costs money; community colleges, scholarships and an affordable public university, for example.
“Ultimately, I feel this is a quick fix,” she said of the apprenticeship program. “It’s not been well thought out, and it’s not good for the future.”
A better solution to lowering these barriers, she said, would be to advertise what’s already available and support guidance counselors so they can connect students with resources.
On parental control
Zerba said she thinks that if parents disagree with what their child is being taught, they should ask the teacher for an alternative rather than going to the school board to demand a change in curriculum.
“It’s up to the teacher to come up with an alternative,” she said. “That’s where parental control lies. Parental control means parental control over your children, and I need to stress your children. Somebody else will not tell me what my child will be learning unless they are their teacher and have been board certified.”
On school choice
Zerba is “very much a proponent of upholding” what the state already offers in education. She’s not in favor of throwing charter schools into the mix.
“Financially, we cannot afford it,” she said, noting teacher shortages and a recent survey by the University of Wyoming and Wyoming Education Association showing that 65% of the survey participants would quit their job in education if they could afford to.
“These are very alarming numbers,” she said. “So here you are wanting to throw charter schools in there? We simply can’t afford it.”
Two new charter schools could open their doors in Mills and Cheyenne next year.
She pointed to the Natrona County School District as a good example of how education can be reinvented without charter schools. Students can attend any school in the district, rather than just the school that’s in their neighborhood. And there are a variety of education options: bilingual immersion education, technical education and classical education, for example.
“I think that Natrona County School District should get a gold star for reinventing education,” she said.
Zerba’s other goals
- Work with educators to improve the use of state resources;
- increase financial transparency by having all school districts publish their budgets online;
- increase technology and the number of teachers in rural areas; and
- change stigmas around trade school education.