Northrup, Schroeder vying to be next superintendent of public instruction

Posted 1/20/22

A dozen Republican candidates have lined up to replace Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, with former state Rep. David Northrup of Powell and Veritas Academy Head of School Brian Schroeder of Cody among them.

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Northrup, Schroeder vying to be next superintendent of public instruction


A dozen Republican candidates have lined up to replace Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, with former state Rep. David Northrup of Powell and Veritas Academy Head of School Brian Schroeder of Cody among the contenders.

“What appeals to me is the opportunity to offer K-12 a different style of leadership,” said Northrup, who would bring both legislative and school board experience to the role.

In a letter submitted Thursday, Schroeder said it would be a “high honor” to be considered for the role and “a great opportunity to build on the accomplishments of Ms. Balow’s service over the past seven years.”

Superintendent Balow announced last week that she was leaving to take a similar, appointed position in Virginia, kicking off a quick search for a replacement.

The Wyoming Republican Party accepted applications for the position through noon today (Thursday) and will choose three finalists at a Saturday meeting in Douglas. 

Beyond Schroeder and Northrup, the other 10 candidates are:

  • Michelle Aldrich, the Wyoming Department of Education’s current director of career and technical education and a Cheyenne City Council member;
  • Megan Degenfelder, a government and regulatory affairs manager at Morningstar Partners Oil & Gas in Cheyenne who served as the chief policy officer under Balow from 2017 through 2019;
  • Keith Goodenough, a former Democratic state lawmaker and Casper City Councilman;
  • Marti Halverson, a retired businesswoman, former state lawmaker and Republican party official from Etna;
  • Joe Heywood of Bedford, the head of school at Wyoming Virtual Academy;
  • Reagan Kaufman, a history, government and economics teacher at Cheyenne South High School and an adjunct instructor at Laramie County and Western Wyoming community colleges;
  • Thomas Kelly of Sheridan, the chair of the Department of Political and Military Science at American Military University; 
  • Jayme Lien of Casper, a self-described “mother, education enthusiast, [and] conservative” with previous experience in retail receiving, a traveling funnel cake booth, as a bank teller and as a daycare provider;
  • Angela Raber of Gillette, an instructor at Sheridan College and independent consultant;
  • Josh Valk of Douglas, the director of the bachelor of applied science program at the University of Wyoming’s Casper campus with past experience in sales management.

After the state GOP makes its three top picks, Gov. Mark Gordon will choose one of those people to lead the Department of Education for the remainder of Balow’s term.

The position is up for election this year. Northrup said he’d been encouraged to run against Balow in the upcoming Republican primary but decided against it. Then the incumbent resigned.

“When this opportunity arose … my wife and I sat and talked about it, and that’s what we decided to do, was jump in with both feet and get ‘er done,” Northrup said.

The Willwood farmer’s past experience in education includes 14 years on the Powell school board and four years co-chairing the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee; he also taught geology at Northwest College for roughly five years and currently serves on Gordon’s Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) committee.

In an application submitted to the Wyoming Republican Party on Sunday, Northrup said the State of Wyoming and public education are at a critical moment.

“As I have led education policy work at the local and state levels, I am well positioned to put policy into practice,” he wrote, “and I believe my skills and understanding of Wyoming state government and public education give me a unique understanding of the situation we are in and strategies for navigating it.”

In a Tuesday interview, Northrup said he can bring a different style of leadership to Wyoming’s education system and “talk about life skills and talk about more than just college.”

“We have great community colleges, we have a great University of Wyoming,” he said. “Our students that are in the high schools just need the opportunity to be able to experience some CTE [career technical education] in whatever form they wish.”

Northrup gave the example of students getting the opportunity to observe a veterinarian, a meat cutter, a welder or a machinist, along with learning about the wages earned by lawyers, accountants and store managers.

“It seems like somewhere along the line, K-12 education has kind of not necessarily pushed them aside, but has left that chance for kids to spend just a little bit of time exploring,” he said.

As for hot button issues in education, Northrup mentioned transgender athletes competing in sports and charter schools, but said he believes Wyoming has already dealt with critical race theory.

“Critical race theory’s been put to bed, essentially, in Wyoming by Jillian [Balow]. Give her credit,” Northrup said, saying “it’s not even something that’s discussed in Wyoming now.”

He added generally that Balow “has done a pretty decent job of keeping us, the State of Wyoming, on an even keel” and “needs to have a pat on the back.”

Schroeder, who currently leads Veritas Academy, a private, Christian school in Cody, wrote in his letter to the GOP about building on Balow’s service.

Schroeder was the keynote speaker at the Park County Republican Party’s July 3 Freedom Celebration in Cody. In those remarks, Schroeder warned attendees to watch their schools like a hawk, warning that some people were trying to “infest and infect our local schools” with the “poison” of critical race theory.

He also bemoaned American schools progressing from “8-year-olds learning to read and write to 8-year-olds learning about the gender spectrum” and “from a curriculum that once had kids chanting the eight parts of speech to a curriculum that has students chanting to Aztec gods of human sacrifice” and “from making kids show their math work, because it’s now considered racist.” 

In both that speech and a letter to the GOP, Schroeder referenced a quote from President Abraham Lincoln, about the schoolroom philosophy of one generation becoming the philosophy of government in the next.

“You teach ideology in the schools, you’ll get idealogues in government,” he warned at the Freedom Celebration. “You pass out condoms to kids at the schoolhouse, you’ll get sex scandals galore at the statehouse. You don’t teach logic as a core discipline at school, you will get completely illogical leaders in Washington.”

Schroeder’s experience includes 15 years as a classroom teacher for students in fifth through eighth grades, plus 14 years as a family/youth counselor and seven years as a pastor.

“The local American schoolhouse is uniquely poised to be both an extension of and support for the American home as well as an incubator for and bridge to American society. There is, therefore, no work on earth more important than what we do as teachers (outside of parenting, of course), which makes the top teacher job in the state all the more critical by way of providing the necessary leadership and direction to our schools,” Schroeder wrote in his letter to the GOP. “If I could help in this regard, I would be humbled and excited.”

During Saturday’s meeting in Douglas, the 12 candidates will speak and field questions from members of the state Republican Party’s central committee. The Park County Republican Party will be represented by Chairman Martin Kimmet, State Committeeman Vince Vanata and State Committeewoman Sherry Johnson. National Committeewoman Nina Webber of Wapiti also holds a vote.

Gov. Gordon will have five days to choose the state’s next superintendent among the candidates forwarded by the state party. The appointment will only last through the end of the year. If the appointee wants to continue serving through the 2023-2026 term, they’ll need to run for the office and win both the Republican primary election in August and the general election in November.

Whether Northrup will run for superintendent of public instruction in the primary is “to be determined,” he said, depending on how Saturday goes.