If Arizona voters approve Penny Kotterman as the next state schools chief, she would be the first professional educator in the office since C. Diane Bishop in the early 1990s.
Kotterman said not only would that educational experience help her as state superintendent of public instruction, but she cites her experience collaborating with lawmakers on school reform and policies as well as managing millions of dollars in federal grants through her work for Northern Arizona University.
Kotterman spent 18 years as a public school teacher in both elementary and middle school classrooms, as well as special education. She also served as president of the Arizona Education Association - the state's largest teachers' union - for six years.
Kotterman decided to run for office because of what she sees as a lack of state policy to improve Arizona's schools. This is her first time campaigning for election.
Kotterman said the job of state superintendent would require her to set the state on a path toward better quality schools.
"Your biggest task impacting that level of student achievement and school quality is the tone you set and the type of organization you put together that will support that environment," she said. "Making sure the policies that come across your desk ensure you're encouraging that type of outreach, that type of collaboration. You're constantly asking yourself, ‘Is this furthering our long term goals? Is this furthering our effort to create better schools based upon what we know is a better school?'"
Kotterman told the Tribune good schools are those that have teachers and leaders creating strong relationships with the community.
"The best performing schools in this nation and across the world are those where there are good collaborative relationships. Where people plan and execute instruction, evaluate their progress, think about what they can do new and differently to help the students be successful and have really strong relationships with the students and their families," she said.
Arizona's schools need more funding, Kotterman said, but she acknowledged that now is not the time for that to happen. The state should, however, plan for the future and a better way of financing the public school system, she said.
She also said charter school teachers should be certified, though the process for certifying them wouldn't need to be the same as other teachers. And, Kotterman would like to see more accountability with charter schools and have their contracts with the state come up for renewal more frequently.