By Sarah Pridgeon
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill made a fleeting visit to Crook County last week, stopping in Moorcroft and Sundance for a whistle-stop tour. Greeting people on the street and visiting local hangout spots, her focus was on meeting members of the community and sharing a few words with each one.
It’s a busy time for the embattled superintendent, who is now running against Governor Matt Mead in the upcoming elections. At the same time, she is struggling to re-establish herself in a role that was stripped of its powers before the Supreme Court declared SF-104 unconstitutional.
“There’s a lot of work we’re doing that doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign,” she nods.
“For instance, just as I was about to pull in here, a parent from Jackson called regarding three of her kiddos and some challenges that they’re facing. It was fascinating to work with her and provide some guidance and feedback.”
From parents contacting her directly to liaising with the office, Hill has plenty of demands on her time.
“I met with the mayor in Moorcroft about some of the issues that have come before the State Lands and Investments Board,” she says.
“There’s a lot of work going on and the governor’s race is on top of that, so we do that usually in the evenings and at weekends.”
Meanwhile, she is dealing with the fallout from the Supreme Court’s ruling on January 28. The matter is now in District Court, which Hill believes is an attempt by the governor to delay her return to office.
“The governor signed SF104 and later said he didn’t know if it was constitutional or not, but he’d let the courts decide. And then, when the court decided on January 28 that it was unconstitutional, he argued it and said he wanted a re-hearing,” she elaborates.
“On February 28, after they’d exhausted their re-hearing efforts, the court said it was still unconstitutional, denied their re-hearing request and in very strong language said to end this unconstitutional scheme and to stop running out the clock.”
Despite this, she says, the governor continues to delay her.
“Even though [the governor’s] brief was saying that they recognize it’s unconstitutional, there are still delay tactics going on. It’s on things that are insignificant and in my mind should not be delaying this,” she says.
“What he’s asking for now, whether or not I do my October 15 report or not – a court doesn’t need to make that decision. That’s ridiculous in my mind, it’s a waste of our time.”
As long as the Attorney General is not an elected role, she believes that the tactics will continue.
“I pay for my own personal attorney. Not too many people would have stood up against this, it’s a personal cost and a financial cost and it’s not easy,” she says.
“My guess is that we’ll see more antics. As long as the Attorney General is appointed by the governor, he’ll be doing the governor’s work for him and you and I will pay for it.”
She mentions a recent contact from the Attorney General’s Office in which she was asked to negotiate federal funding such that the governor would have responsibility for it.
“My attorney let him know that the Constitution is not negotiable. This is unusual, it’s historical because we don’t usually see these kind of things happen, but it’s politics of the worst kind and it has nothing to do with children,” she laments.
Nevertheless, she believes that her two years in office had a positive impact on state education.
“I promised the people to focus on instruction and that’s what we did immediately when I came in. I let my staff known that we had 48 months, but we only had really 24,” she says.
“I had no idea what the governor was going to do with this power grab of his – this significant power grab in education, taking the people’s vote away.”
During those 24 months, she says, she placed the focus on instruction.
“We provided wonderful instructional training to teachers for seven months and over 2000 teachers participated. We saw scores go up statewide in every subject matter tested and every grade level tested – both years, not just one,” she remembers.
“These were increases that hadn’t happened in decades and that’s because we focused right in on the teachers. That’s really what matters.”
Governor Mead has committed the state to national tests, she says. He’s about more data collection and teacher evaluations that decide whether a teacher keeps their job based on how well their students perform on the tests.
“Teachers are now measuring what they do on whether their kids know what the Common Core is and how they will do on the test versus what does the student really need,” she says.
“What that says to teachers is that a test will tell us how well you teach, but we know there’s not a test that tells us that. I’m an educator, I work with experts in psychometrics and in testing and there’s no test that tells us how well a teacher teaches.”
Hill believes a teacher’s performance should be evaluated by having principals in the classrooms. The state should work with teachers, support them and allow principals to have the final decision, she says.
“For us to use a test to make any decision on employment for teachers is really questionable,” she says.
“More than that, it’s not just.”
Hill is also of the opinion that the Legislature should not be “micromanaging education.” It’s a question on which she and the governor strongly disagree, she explains, because local control matters and is where the best education can be found.
Though Hill is not necessarily a fan of the Common Core Standards, she strongly supports Wyoming State Standards. We’ve always had standards, she says, but they should work with the state’s values and be the highest possible.
“Our values, no-one else’s. Wyoming values are what our state is about,” she nods.
“You may see that there are some things in the Common Core standards that we would have in ours, that make sense, and some that don’t. You need to look at everything and then make certain that they’re ours, not just adopt them full scale from the government or from a consortia that’s influenced by the federal government.”
Unlike some states, she goes on, Wyoming is not dependent on federal funding. In some parts of the nation, this was a lure that forced them to adopt the Common Core Standards.
“We’re not in that place, we’ve been very fortunate,” she says, questioning why the governor signed Wyoming up for the No Child Left Behind waiver when it requires Common Core, the national assessment, more data collection and the teacher evaluation she so disagrees with.
“Why he did that, I don’t know, because it was more federal requirements than even No Child Left Behind.”
Though she was under a great deal of pressure to agree to these things, Hill notes that she said no from the time she was elected.
“I said no on behalf of the people, I was elected to do that. I said no to $10 million in stimulus dollars, I said no to $50 million in a grant that the governor’s office wrote for stimulus dollars,” she says, emphasizing her belief in local control.
“It took both his and my signature and I refused to sign it. Our schools are well funded and we don’t need to have more federal encroachment and strings in our state than we have right now.”