KINGMAN – The position of Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested races in next year’s election, with 28-year-old Republican Jonathan Gelbart the latest to announce his run against incumbent Diane Douglas.
Frank Riggs, a former California congressman who once ran for Arizona governor, and Tracy Livingston, a former Phoenix area school board member and educator, have also entered the race as Republicans.
Tempe Councilman David Schapira and Peoria teacher Kathy Hoffman, both Democrats, will face off in the primary.
Gelbart stopped into the Daily Miner for an interview while he was in town to meet with Mohave County Superintendent of Schools Mike File.
“The No. 1 responsibility of the state superintendent is to efficiently manage the department of education,” he said. “That’s first and foremost, regardless of political aspirations. She (Douglas) has created kind of a hostile work environment with a revolving door of people.”
She comes up with a different answer every week for schools, and her department is in “total chaos,” Gelbart said.
“It’s hard for a lot people. They want to see stability in the department,” he said. “We don’t need any more career politicians or bomb-throwers. We need a solutions-oriented, consensus builder and problem solver, and that’s what I bring to the table.”
Raised in Phoenix, Gelbart earned a master’s degree in engineering at Stanford University, following his undergraduate studies in international relations.
He managed $250 million in finances for Basis Charter Schools and opened 15 new campuses in Arizona, including Flagstaff and Prescott, which are serving more than 10,000 students. Five of the country’s top seven high schools are Basis schools, he noted.
“I’m passionate about building a bright future for Arizona and make sure the school system is part of that,” Gelbart said. “I want to bring a fresh perspective and new approach. I understand the world has changed since the other candidates were in school.”
Gelbart said his opponents are “all the same thing in different packaging,” and that it’s time to build the next-generation school system.
“Our school system hasn’t changed in 100 years. I think of it like a Model T. It’s a century-old clunker that we keep patching up as we try to compete with the rest of the country, when we really need a new car.”
Gelbart’s top priority as superintendent is to get the department of education working again and build a culture in which everyone lives and breathes the mission of serving every student in public schools.
“Beyond getting the department running efficiently again, I’ll be focusing on promoting innovation in the system, working with the Legislature and the governor to get more money to our teachers and classrooms, supporting school choice, and hold our schools accountable for providing a great education for Arizona kids,” he said.
Gelbart said he learned what great schools look like and what they need to be successful during his time at Basis.
“Every school doesn’t need to look exactly like Basis, but every school can learn from the high expectations Basis sets for itself,” the young Republican said.
For more on Gelbart and his campaign for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, go to his website at GelbartforAZ.com.