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Luna highlights eight years of achievements

The Aberdeen Times of Aberdeen, Idaho

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Editor's note: this is the first in a multi-part series from an interview between Press reporter Kurtis Workman and current Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna on Wednesday, Oct. 1. Other topics covered during that interview will appear in future editions of The Power County Press.

With his time in office coming to a close Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is making the last few stops he needs to complete a goal he set for himself nearly eight years ago.

"When I first came into office, one of the things I thought was a natural part of the job was to spend a lot of time visiting schools," said Luna.

According to Luna the idea to visit every public and charter school in the state came from some of the school visits during his first years as superintendent.

"I was surprised to learn, early on, how many school districts had said the state superintendent had never been to that school before, or that district even. So I decide before I was done I wanted to have visited every school and charter school," said Luna.

He also said it has been a difficult task to complete.

"Some districts are very isolated and with the charter schools some are new so it is hard to reach all of the districts. Others I have visited many times because they are large, but even those are hard because they have so many schools in those districts like Meridian. But, yes before I am done I will have visited every school," said Luna.

Luna said attempting to visit each school in the state helped shape his approach to leading Idaho's education system.

"It has been very instructive. I have always said education doesn't happen at the state department of ed because, quite frankly there are no kids there. Education happens where the kids are so you have to get into the schools and into the classrooms. It has been by far the best part of the job," said Luna.

Luna announced early into the election cycle that he would not be seeking a third term as state superintendent. The knowledge his time in office is short has led Luna to reflect on the eight years spent leading Idaho' education system and Luna points to several objectives he outlined in his campaigns for the office that have been completed.

"I was very clear when I ran eight years ago there were specific things that I am convinced and believed that needed to happen in Idaho schools that needed to happen so that our students could get a world-class education. I talked about how in order to have great teachers in every classroom the way we compensated teachers needed to change. That if we are going to retain the great teachers we have and attract more of the best and brightest we could not continue to pay them based on just how many years they have taught," said Luna.

Luna said changing the model for teacher compensation has taken on many forms during his eight years in office.

"I talked about whether it was 'pay for performance' or differential pay or a 'career ladder' that at least a portion of a teacher's pay had to be based on something other than just how many years they have taught and how much education they have received," said Luna.

He said the state of Idaho has been successful in changing the way teachers are paid.

"Over the past three years teachers have had a chance to earn thousands of dollars in compensation for providing leadership, student achievement of or teaching a hard-to-fill position and that is going to continue long after I am gone because it is in law now and part of the budget," said Luna.

Another area Luna takes pride from is increasing the variety of education choices available to Idaho parents.

"I specifically talked about the fact that we needed to remove the cap on charter schools. We needed to expand parental choice and we have done that with the number of charter schools that are now open in the state," said Luna.

During his visit to The Power County Press which followed a visit to one of the state's newest charter schools, which is located on the Fort Hall Reservation, Luna was promoting a new program called Fast Forward. The program provides juniors up to $200 and seniors up to $400 to cover the cost of Dual Enrollment or technical certification tests.

"Kids in other states were able to earn college credits while in high school and Idaho's kids need those opportunities and now our children have some of the most progressive opportunities in the country for dual credit opportunities," said Luna.

"We had two barriers when I came into office. The first was just access to the class. There were students in isolated areas of the state that did not have a way to access the instructors. So we have used technology to overcome those barriers and we have worked with our colleges and universities to work with the local districts. The other obstacle was the expense. We have incredibly bright students that could do well in the class, but then did not have the money to pay for the credits. So now we have these programs to pay for those credits. Right now a high school student has the opportunity to earn a year of college, paid for by the state, before they leave high school. We are seeing kids just clamoring for this chance. This is one thing I< campaigned on and I am very happy we were able to accomplish that," he said.

Luna said another campaign promise he has filled in the eight years since his first election was returning some control back to local school districts.

"We have been able to empower our local school boards. When I came into office there were labor laws that really tied the hands of locally elected school boards in their ability to make some of the most important decisions at the local level. So we reformed our labor laws so now locally elected school boards have more control in their ability to making those important decisions. We removed "evergreen" clauses in master agreements. Negotiations now happen in open meetings, they can't do things behind closed doors," said Luna.

Luna hit upon the topic of salary negotiations taking place in open meetings in detail saying the transparency has helped improve the trust people have in the contract negotiation process.

"The fact that negotiations happen in open meeting where the press and even other teachers can observe what is being said and done has had a huge benefit to that process at the local level. No longer is seniority the only criteria being used when making employment decisions," said Luna.

Apart from the large number of accomplishments Luna listed he pointed to one specific program that he calls the highlight of his time in office.

"The thing that I am probably most excited about is by every academic measure our schools and our children are doing better than they were eight years ago when I came into office. I give that credit to the great teachers, administrators and kids that we have in this state, but everything has to be measured against student achievement and our kids are doing better," said Luna.

Even though Luna pointed to the increased achievement of Idaho's students he tempered the conversation by saying there was much more to be done.

"There is still a lot to do to make sure our students are reaching their greatest potential, but we are on the right track," said Luna.

Looking to the future of continuing the increase of student achievement Luna said the adoption of the Idaho Core Standards and higher academic achievement standards are going to perpetuate growth in student achievement.

"I think that is a hugely important accomplishment that is going to last long after I am gone from this office," said Luna.

Copyright 2014 The Aberdeen Times, Aberdeen, Idaho. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: October 8, 2014

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