EDITOR'S NOTE: We've been experiencing technical difficulties all day. Here's something that got lost in the madness this morning. Otherwise, we're calling it a day. Be back tomorrow, with everything else we'd planned to post and more. 

Heuschel with Inslee at today's announcement

Governor-elect Jay Inslee named Renton School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Alice Heuschel as his chief of staff this morning, saying Heuschel would bring her "unrelenting search for quality at the Renton school District … to state government.”

Heushcel, in her seventh year as superintendent of the district, is an award-winning superintendent (she was 2011's Washington State Superintendent of the Year and a finalist for Superintendent of the Year nationwide for the American Association of School Administrators.)

She has an impressive track record of improving the district—increasing graduation rates from 76 percent to 93 percent, dramatically increasing the number of kids, particularly minority students, in AP classes, and greenlighting a collaborative teaching approach pitched by teachers themselves.

In his announcement this morning, Inslee hyped Heuschel's "spectacular" accomplishments in the school district, but said he chose her for another reason: Her success in Renton had resulted from her larger commitment to setting serious goals and applying rigorous metrics. Inslee said Heuschel's result-oriented mindset fit with his campaign promise to apply Lean management principles to government based on "constant quality improvement."

"Her educational achievements are not the most important thing," Inslee said. "What has been so impressive [is] her sense of innovation, her sense of setting high expectations, her sense of judging performance based on demonstrable metrics."

"We have a proven leader who is going to take on this responsibility of helping the whole state raise our performance level of state government."

At the press conference this morning, I asked Heuschel (and later followed up with Inslee staff, but didn't get a response) for a specific policy change she'd implemented. Heuschel talked in general terms about goals and metrics and tying other Renton agencies into helping the schools.

When I asked again, she noted Renton's "District Improvement Plan"—a measurable series of goals, which she said had helped boost AP enrollment. 

Earlier this month, Inslee appointed Heuschel to his transition team along with Microsoft exec Brad Smith and Washington State University president Dr. Elson Floyd. Smith has been focused on education reform—giving his transition team an education focus.

Reminded about the front-and-center "jobs" theme during the campaign, Inslee was asked why he was turning to an education leader; education had been a theme during the race, but mainly because Inslee's opponent, Republican Rob McKenna, had focused on it.

Inslee said this morning that "most chiefs of staff come from the ... political world," describing his selection of Heuschel as "about as far away from status quo as you could get."

Inslee said: "The best possible jobs chief of staff in the state of Washington today is Mary Alice Heuschel. She's got the ability to get the entire state government to lift its aspirations on how it will perform to help create jobs. I can’t think of a better person to help embrace a Lean management system and a metrics-based system. I can't think of better person to make sure that [Department heads] are setting a metric for performance."

The Republicans have accused Inslee of maintaining the status quo with his transition team, appointing people from labor unions, chambers of commerce, and big special interests. But Inslee said this morning that "most chiefs of staff come from the ... political world," describing his selection of Heuschel as "about as far away from status quo as you could get."

It is noteworthy, actually that Inslee did not pick a longtime political ally—such as his campaign manager and former congressional political director, Joby Shimomura, for exmaple.

I will say, Heuschel gets rave reviews from one of Inslee's biggest special interests, the teachers union (among his Top 10 all-time contributors). Phyllis Silling, President of the Renton teachers' union, praised Heuschel for being against merit pay and against charters. Heuschel formally came out against this year's charter measure, I-1240.

Heuschel did write an editorial for the Seattle Times in 2010 supporting the concept of using student improvement in teacher evalutaions—a bickering point between unions (against at the time) and reformers (all for). Silling says Heuschel stepped back from that very quickly, after teachers protested. 

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