Public hearing for governor’s pick to lead Iowa Department of Education

DES MOINES — A senate committee will likely vote on the governor’s nominee to lead the Iowa Department of Education tomorrow.

McKenzie Snow took over as acting director of the department in late June, but she must win 34 yes votes in the Iowa Senate to be confirmed for the role. Taryn Frideres, the governor’s chief of staff, was the first person to testify in favor of Snow at a subcommittee hearing this morning.

“I’m here to say she is emanently qualified for the posiion,” Frideres said, “and exactly the type of leader the department needs at this time.”

Iowa State Board of Education president John Robbins, a retired superintendent, also spoke on Snow’s behalf. “Director Snow’s experience in state agencies in Virginia and New Hampshire along with her experience at the U.S. Department of Education have positioned her to successfully address the unique challenges of state leadership in Iowa.”

Critics say Snow is not qualified for the role and its $200,000 salary because she has never been a licensed teacher or school administrator — at a time when the department is absorbing other agencies. Jackson Kleinmeyer, a student at Kirkwood Community College, urged senators to reject Snow’s nomination.

“You’re going to put a lot of faith in someone to run our entire education system,” he said, “and never mine this person is not legally qualified to run an elementary school.”

Jessica Roman of North Liberty, a special education consultant with the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, said Snow’s experience lies in policy writing, in four different jobs over the past seven years. “If you’re having heart surgery, who do you want to consult, the surgeon or the person who wrote the hospital handbook?” Roman asked.

Snow delivered an opening statement at the hearing and answered questions from the three senators on the panel. “I’ve heard, maybe a few times, that I didn’t come up through the ranks of education in Iowa and that’s true. I bring something different,” Snow said. “…I am a leader experienced in managing teams of experts and large scale budgets with a track record of results for students.”

Snow was the deputy director of Virginia’s Department of Education when Governor Reynolds hired her.