Super At 77?

Terry Gilbert is the Democratic candidate for Superintendent of Education for the State of Idaho. Photo credit:

Septuagenarian sets sight on Idaho’s highest education post

By Eric Valentine

Terry Gilbert has a novel idea.

“I think a public school educator should be the superintendent of public school education,” says the 77-year-old Boise resident who is vying for the position of Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Education.

Gilbert has two novel ideas, actually.

“The position of superintendent of public education really should not be a partisan office; education is not partisan,” said the longtime Democrat who understands clearly that for many red state  voters the capital ‘/D’ after a candidate’s name stands for ‘Disqualified.’

Gilbert’s opponent in November will be Debbie Critchfield, who for the past seven years has served as a member of the Idaho Board of Education, the most recent two years as president.

“Everything I know about her, she is a fine woman,” Gilbert said. “But let’s look at some of our differences.”

There are at least several policy differences between the two, but the foremost disconnect is their stance on vouchers. It’s no shocker that Critchfield, an established Republican, is in favor of vouchers—using public education funds to send high-performing students typically from low-performing schools into the private school system. However, when running for a public education position, it’s not typical for a conservative candidate to lead with that. Critchfield—on parts of her website, at least—does.

And for Gilbert, who at least comes across as a moderate Democrat, couldn’t be more opposed to the voucher system.

Gilbert says, “Don’t be fooled this election year when you hear candidates talk about ‘school choice.’ It sounds good, but it’s really an all-out attack on our public schools by those who would destroy them for profit, at our children’s expense and at the expense of the schools that are the heart and soul of our communities.”

On matters of experience in education, Gilbert notes his opponent’s degree is in political science, not education, and how she is a political appointee on the state board, not exactly a seasoned policy wonk or a lifelong, in-the-trenches advocate for teachers. In fairness, Critchfield is no novice to education and she makes clear in her campaign literature her role in policy making at the highest state levels.

But on working for traditional public education in general and advocating for teachers specifically, while educating students day in, day out in the classroom as K-12 homeroom teacher and department head, Gilbert’s 45-year record is unmatched. Here are the highlights:

• President of the Idaho Education Association (the teachers union) 

• Leader of the Nampa Education Association

• IEA’s Regional Director in Twin Falls and Meridian

• IEA’s Director of Organizational Development

• Full-time employee at the Idaho State School and Hospital during undergraduate work

• Member of Rotary International and served as Governor of Rotary District 5400

• Mentor at Taft Elementary (Boise)

• K-12 classroom teacher, department head and substitute teacher for nearly 20 years

• Developed a course on ethical standards for teachers

• Bachelor’s degree in English and history

• Master’s degree in curriculum and brain development 

As for the age difference between his opponent and him, Gilbert takes solace in the fact that America’s last two presidents—one Republican and one Democrat—are both older than him.

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