Janie Ward-Engelking 

Idaho's Newest Senator

The political fortunes have changed dramatically for Janie Ward-Engelking. After losing Idaho House Seat 18A by a mere seven votes to Julie Ellsworth in 2010, Ward-Engelking, renewed her challenge for the House seat in 2012 after the district had been dramatically reshaped (BW, News, "Turning 18," Sept. 4, 2012).

"Really hard work pays off," said Ward-Engelking, who admitted to not celebrating her victory until hours after the last votes were counted on election night 2012.

"Everybody kept saying, 'It's good.' But I just didn't allow us to celebrate until about 7 the next morning," she recalled.

And now, following only one year in the House, Ward-Engelking is one of only seven Democrats and six women in the 35-member Idaho Senate. She was sworn into the more exclusive club Jan. 6 after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter appointed her to replace former Sen. Branden Durst, who resigned his post, citing "family needs."

Talk to me about your decision to place your name into consideration for the Senate.

I thought about it long and hard. I loved the House, coming in with a full group of new freshmen was pretty fun. We had a lot of camaraderie. I'm definitely the newbie on the Senate side.

Were you surprised at Branden Durst's decision to give up his Senate seat?

I knew it was a hard for him--he worked hard to get there and really loved the job. I feel badly for him.

What did you learn in your 2012 campaign versus 2010?

If anything, it reinforced what I thought I knew, and that's education was the No. 1 priority, and that was reaffirmed as I went door-to-door. It's going to take several years to get where we need to get to restore things that were cut from education.

Do you have an idea of how far back we need to go? I'm presuming that, at least, it has to be pre-recession levels?

Funding for education in Idaho has never been near the top in the nation, that's for sure.

And the governor's task force, which you were a part of, insists that we have to turn that around sooner than later.

If the Legislature only takes a couple of the task force's 21 recommendation, we're not going to get the product we want.

What do Idaho teachers need right now that they're not getting?

I believe they need job-embedded collaboration.

I'm not sure I know what that is.

Simply put, they have to talk to one another. They have a lot of great ideas, but there's no time to share them. They're isolated. Maybe we need to have an early dismissal one day a week or possibly a late start.

Are you talking about school-to-school dialogue?

You could do that, but in districts like Boise and Meridian, I'm thinking of dialogue within the building.

But I'm guessing those opportunities have gone by the wayside because of furloughs and elimination of in-service days due to budget restraints.

That's right. They're gone. There's no money for professional development.

I'm presuming that you're in favor of Boise Rep. Hy Kloc's proposal for a Pre-K pilot program.

I'm planning on being one of its co-sponsors.

Have you been talking to teachers about how it's going in the first year of implementation of the Idaho Core Standards?

Things are going fairly well in Boise and Meridian because they were farther along in developing their lesson plans. But that's not true in the entire state. In some schools, they're just now learning about it and they're not where they need to be. Consequently, they're scrambling because they haven't had the professional development they need.

Do you think that's where some of the uncertainty and skepticism is coming from?

The resources and tools aren't there yet, and I think it makes people nervous when they can't see it.

Is it fair to say that we could have done a better job in rolling out Idaho Core?

As an educator, I would have liked more time before implementation. But there have been big cutbacks, and one of the first things set aside by a lot of school districts was professional development. Teachers are great when you give them time to talk about it, analyze it and develop their lesson plans. But if we don't give them those pieces, it's going to continue to be a bumpy road.

Do you spend time talking to others, encouraging them to run for the Legislature?

So many people are very disillusioned with public service and politics. Some think it just doesn't matter.

Don't you think that's generational?

I'm really encouraging more legislators to go into classrooms and talk to students about how it does make a difference and how their vote matters. Believe me, I know. I lost an election once by seven votes. Oh, yes, it really matters.

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