Superintendent of Public Instruction: Penny Kotterman
Name: Penny Kotterman
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Office running for: Superintendent of Public Instruction
In district: Statewide
Political experience: I have never held an elected office because I am a teacher, not a politician. However, in my role as a career educator I have worked on policy efforts with two governors, Jane Hull and Janet Napolitano, and on numerous appointed committees and commissions related to education issues. I have been actively involved in campaigns and elections for most of my adult life. Here in Arizona, I was a volunteer leader for Proposition 301 (school funding) in 2000 and for three separate State Trust Land Initiatives.
Family: I am widowed and have two grown children, Christopher and William
Please describe your platform:
Our schools are struggling and our education system lacks real leadership. I believe it is time to put an experienced public educator in charge of our schools. Our public schools, community colleges and universities are the foundation of our communities and their success will drive an improved economy here in Arizona. We should focus every effort on building and maintaining high standards and high expectations for ourselves as leaders, for our students, our teachers, and our schools. There are three areas where I believe we must focus: Making sure we have a quality teacher in every classroom, creating a fair, common-sense accountability system that starts at the classroom level and focuses on student learning and growth, and building a foundation for future success by examining the manner in which we provide instruction and resources for public education. We must have a vision for what we want to achieve and a set of goals for getting there, and we have to engage our communities, our educators, our business leaders and our government officials statewide in that effort.
If elected, what is your first priority?
Setting a tone of real leadership and responsibility for our public schools and reaching out to our communities to create networks of support, creativity and ingenuity for our schools. I will refocus the efforts of the Arizona Department of Education on supporting our schools and districts, especially those facing the most difficulties and/or not performing well, and building efforts to recruit and retain the best possible teachers and school leaders for our schools. In these difficult economic times we must be certain we are getting resources and support to the schools that need it most and at the same time building a foundation of future success for our students.
Who do you think is your biggest challenge and why?
There are two major challenges that I think go hand in hand. The first is creating a new type of leadership for our schools. We must focus on teaching and learning based on high standards and high expectations and constantly measuring the impact on student success and growth, rather than strictly on once-yearly outcomes and ratings and rankings of schools. The second is finding the resources in a down economy to invest in the support our schools need to be successful in this endeavor. The biggest challenge is the difficult economic circumstances and the effect they have had all across the education spectrum, from early childhood education to higher education, and the effect on families and children and the support they need to be successful. We must use this time to be as effective and efficient as possible, and to build a vision and plan of action to compete globally, so that our students can compete with students from India, China, Holland, and other countries.
What do you think sets you apart from your opponent(s)?
I am a 32-year veteran educator with 18 years of classroom experience, 3 years of district program experience, and 5 years of experience in teacher professional growth and development at the university level. I hold two administrative certificates and 4 teaching credentials. I am a teacher first, not a politician. My opponent has no practical experience in any public school or district in Arizona or elsewhere. I believe in investing in public education as a foundation for building our economy and providing learning opportunities for students from pre-school through the university level. My opponent has voted to cut education funding, including the elimination of all-day kindergarten, at the same time as he has supported tax cuts and loopholes for corporations and continued to guarantee increased funding for private and religious schools through corporate and personal tax credits. I am focused on improving our schools at the most fundamental level, the classroom, by using my energy to improve the quality of those in teaching and leadership positions. I do not believe we should implement reforms that are more about punishment than about quality teaching and learning and the impact on student growth and achievement. We should start looking at accountability and responsibility from the classroom, where the students are, and manage information, research and data in a way that actually tells us how we’re doing.
What would you do to achieve more transparency in government, and should government officials be in charge of managing those efforts?
The information systems and data that come from the Department of Education are especially confusing, leaving communities with little real information they can trust about the real expenditures made on public education from state and local taxes, the qualifications of individuals teaching and working in our schools, and the real long-term success of our students at all levels. I believe the best systems are those that are designed in conjunction with government and private entities qualified to do so. In the case of the Department of Education, a completely new, transparent system for handling information and data should be developed that does not burden schools and districts and will provide us the opportunity to make better decisions on funding and programs for our schools. This system could be constructed by a partnership of universities, businesses, and education officials and then managed by the Department with periodic oversight by such a partnership.
Public notices are regarded as one important way for the public to find out what is really happening in government. Newspapers currently not only print public notices but also operate a free, consolidated, online, searchable database. Some people advocate that public notices should be available only on government websites. Do you agree that the Legislature should change the current law to mandate that public notices be available only on government websites?
No, I do not. I believe that more transparency and available information will help to create more public trust and a more informed electorate. Citizens cannot participate in the political or policy process if they are not well informed.
What do you think is the biggest challenge right now facing Yumans, and Arizonans?
Our biggest challenge as a state is rebuilding our economy and putting people back to work. There is a deep connection between creating a robust education system, Pre-K through higher education, and the willingness of industry to come to our state and to stay here. Yuma is no different. You have struggled to get university-level programming and degrees for your rural location, keep excellent teachers in your schools, and build an economy near the border under extremely hostile policy circumstances. Building on your successes in public education and offering more opportunities for higher education would be an asset to the economy in Yuma.
What would you do, if elected, to help change that?
I believe we need to create more opportunities for expansion of higher education in our rural communities and provide more supportive service to our K-12 school districts. In the short term, this means restructuring the Department of Education and working more closely to build consortiums and collaborative efforts among districts and with our county school superintendents. At the university level it means leveraging resources and technology for additional courses and programs and working with the Board of Regents to create long term plans for expansion.
What is one of your strength? Weaknesses (something you’d like to improve upon)?
I am a visionary and with practical experience in public education and the desire and skill to improve our schools for our students. I will not hesitate to break the mold on something I believe is not working. I collaborate and listen and create solutions to complex issues. I can motivate and work with others to do the same.
I am impatient with systems that move slowly and people who get in the way of implementing potential solutions. Sometimes it’s necessary to slow down rethink the situation in order to be successful in the long run.
What is one thing that you want voters to know?
I am running for Superintendent of Public Instruction because I believe our schools and our children need and deserve an experienced public educator and teacher as a leader. Arizona has had career politicians and lawyers running our schools for nearly the last two decades. All of the policies and practices we have in place today are a result of their priorities. I believe it is time to change that, and I think I am the person who can provide the leadership necessary to do so.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity. I believe an informed electorate will make the best decisions for our state and our nation. I urge you to go to my website, www.pennykotterman.com to find out more about me.