Changes will come to DPIWayne Sanstead has been North Dakota’s superintendent of public instruction for 28 years. The 76-year-old veteran of state government recently announced that he will not seek re-election in the fall. That makes change inevitable at the Department of Public Instruction. How much change will be up to North Dakota voters.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
Wayne Sanstead has been North Dakota’s superintendent of public instruction for 28 years. The 76-year-old veteran of state government recently announced that he will not seek re-election in the fall. That makes change inevitable at the Department of Public Instruction. How much change will be up to North Dakota voters.
The job of superintendent ranks among the nonpartisan races on the statewide ballot. Democrats and Republicans, however, will be looking for candidates for the office they find acceptable, that they can support.
Running education isn’t nearly as straightforward as much of the rest of government, especially in North Dakota, where the emphasis has been on local control. Some would say that’s slipping, but it remains true in principle. The state Legislature provides standards and the Department of Public Instruction nudges teachers, administrators and school boards along without a heavy hand, because it lacks strong authority.
Meanwhile, in the last 20 years, the federal government has asserted more and more control over local education — first in the realm of special education and, more recently, with No Child Left Behind. And the state has begun to pick up more of the cost of local elementary and secondary education.
Superintendent Sanstead has watched this play out over his long career, and now someone else will be at the helm of DPI. Because Sanstead has been so successful at the ballot box, there isn’t a deep roster of candidates waiting in the wings. In the coming weeks, names of prospective candidates will surface. The job of state superintendent is very important, and finding the right fit for North Dakota is imperative. Voters need to be alert.
Voters need to think through who they want the state superintendent of public instruction to represent — students, teachers, school boards, taxpayers or citizens.
Sanstead would be among the first to agree that education has changed dramatically over the past 28 years. North Dakota students are being challenged to perform at a higher level, to be more competitive nationally and internationally. A new state superintendent of schools will need to help local school districts meet these challenges.
Most recently the state has stopped its long, steady population decline. Numbers of school-age children are beginning to grow. Instead of closing schools, more schools are being built.
Education’s paradigm has shifted in this state. North Dakota will have a new state school superintendent to help oversee the change. It’s important that voters cast their ballots with a mind to the future.