Kathy Hoffman was buoyed by the Red for Ed movement and Democratic energy across Arizona, but now, she’s looking for moderate voices to guide her administration.
The Associated Press declared Hoffman victorious in the race for superintendent of public instruction on Nov. 12, nearly a week after the polls closed. Her win marked the first time Arizona elected a Democratic schools chief since C. Diane Bishop, who took office in 1987. As of publication, she was ahead of Republican Frank Riggs by about 54,000 votes.
Hoffman, a certified speech therapist, ran as an educator who could represent frustrated teachers across the state, teachers who rallied at the state Capitol on strike earlier this year. Noah Karvelis, a lead organizer behind Red for Ed, served as Hoffman’s campaign manager in the movement’s early stages, and she threw her support behind the effort, showing up at the Capitol to rally alongside her peers.
But she told the Arizona Capitol Times that her campaign was about more than Red for Ed – it was about a deep concern for public education and funding for public schools.
“I wouldn’t qualify my tenure or my role as being the Red for Ed superintendent,” she said. “I would say I’m the pro-public education candidate.”
Now, she said she wants to make it clear that she’s not just looking to pad her team at the Arizona Department of Education with people who fall far to left on the political spectrum – and no, Karvelis won’t be joining her administration.
She said she hasn’t yet picked a chief of staff, but she wants someone who would be considered more moderate, someone who is respected on all sides.
She also wants to see a higher level experience in her chief of staff, perhaps someone who has previously served as a district superintendent, and someone who can help mend the morale problem at the department she’ll now be leading.
Hoffman has selected someone to lead her communications team, but declined to immediately release the person’s name. She said hiring decisions would be announced in the coming weeks. Creosote Partners is assisting in her transition.
And she’s sorting out her legislative goals – the race may have just ended, but the session and her time in office begin in less than two months.
She said she wants to highlight the positives about public education and take up issues like charter school reform and policy on the state’s English Language Learners program.
She’s also in early talks with legislators and other leaders in the field about getting paid parental leave for teachers, a point that she is particularly excited about. She said she’s optimistic and has been told the Legislature could find a creative way to get it done.
Ultimately, she said she wants to set a positive tone and get people working together across the board.
“This is an opportunity,” she said. “This is a pivotal point in public education in Arizona. There’s so much we can accomplish if we can work together.”
She may find that’s easier said than done.
Hoffman is a political newcomer. She’ll now lead a department that oversees schools serving more than 1.1 million students and billions in state and federal funding.
On the campaign trail, Republican contender Frank Riggs had painted the contest as being between a “neophyte with no leadership experience” against a former legislator.
He touted his leadership experience over her classroom experience and banked on the voters putting a higher premium on the former.
Riggs did not immediately concede the race after the AP called it in Hoffman’s favor, but he did offer his congratulations on and a last bit of sarcasm on Facebook.
“As the historic number of mail-in and drop-off ballots continue to be counted, I congratulate Ms. Hoffman and the other successful Democratic candidates,” he wrote. “They obviously benefited from a well-funded and orchestrated turnout effort that reversed the Election Day results. There’s no question that a certain California billionaire is attempting to turn Arizona and other states purple and is willing to spend whatever it takes.”