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Educators divided on Yecke

By Edie Grossfield

egrossfield@postbulletin.com

It's just politics, several Rochester education professionals say about Cheri Pierson Yecke's predicament.

During a hearing this week considering whether Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's appointee should be confirmed as Minnesota's education commissioner, a Senate education committee voted 6-4 along party lines to reject her.

"I think it's clearly an example of how our education system has become a political system," said Jerry Williams, superintendent of Rochester public schools. "There's been a lot of time taken away from dealing with student-related issues that are now being devoted to politics."

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The decision whether to confirm Yecke now moves to debate in the full DFL-led Senate.

Yecke has been under fire by opponents of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Her staunch support of No Child Left Behind, combined with her conservative approach to education, has stirred political fires.

Williams said he has no opinion about whether Yecke should be confirmed and acknowledges that he hasn't always agreed with everything she has done.

"But I also have to say that she's been very responsive to our school district. When we've called, she's gotten back to us," he said.

Yecke has worked with district staff members to address concerns about No Child Left Behind standards, said Craig Sheets, the district's instructional facilitator.

Sheets said he was surprised by the Senate committee's rejection of Yecke, and he believes the action will come back to bite DFLers.

"Politicians tend to have long memories," he said. "At some point in the future, …; the roles are going to be reversed. People are going to remember that they rejected a nominee that, at least on paper, is a very qualified person.

"Simply being too conservative, or too liberal for that matter, shouldn't keep you from being confirmed," he said.

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Dallas Glaser, president of the Rochester Education Association teachers union, said he doesn't support the No Child Left Behind law as it stands and, therefore, does not support Yecke. He is not a big fan of her working style.

"Personally, I'm not impressed by the way she deals with people," he said. "She may listen, but then she goes ahead and does what she wants anyway.."

However, Glaser said he doesn't believe in dedicating a lot of resources to ousting Yecke, especially given the fact that any replacement will need to carry out the governor's directions anyway.

John Marshall High School Principal Rick Stirn concurs that the rejection of Yecke was pure politics.

"It's an example of the mixing of politics and education. I'll let people make their own decisions about whether that's a good thing or a bad thing," Stirn said. He said he thinks Yecke has the background to be education commissioner.

Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, principal of Ben Franklin Elementary School, said she appreciates the difficulty of Yecke's job.

"I don't know of anyone who could do that job without having adamant opposition and supporters," Griffin-Ziebart said.

More important, she said, is that the education commissioner understands the effect the job has on students, teachers and communities.

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