Last fall, St. Mary’s Academy graduate, Kathy Redden Hoffman '04, made a name for herself 12,000 miles away in the state of Arizona after winning the race for Superintendent in Public Instruction against experienced politician Frank Riggs, becoming the first democrat and educator in the role in over 20 years and the youngest elected female in a statewide campaign, in the country.
“I started campaigning on the crazy notion that we should have an educator leading our Department of Education,” Kathy recalled of the 2018 election. “I wanted all students and teachers to feel they were being advocated for, and I wanted people to feel proud of our education system.”
Before running for a state government official, Kathy served as a teacher and speech pathologist in the Tucson and Pheonix school districts. She had no experience in politics which she described made the race to the finish line a bit jarring at times.
“Throughout the campaign, people frequently said that I wasn’t qualified. They would ask ‘what experience do you have that makes you qualified?’ I often heard that type of rhetoric.” Kathy added many people advised her to run for an "easier" role. “There were days when I had to dig deep and be brave, bold and go outside of my comfort zone because there were so many people trying to discourage me,” Kathy remembered.
In the end, it was her passion and perseverance that paid off when she was declared winner last November. Although she had many to thank following her win, including her campaign team, supporters, colleagues and the community, it was SMA she credited for providing the foundation around her confidence.“The SMA environment gave me the feeling that there’s no limit and I’ve never felt I can't do something because I’m a woman. Being around so many highly intelligent and motivating women was inspiring and very encouraging. It helped me become this type of person that has this drive."
Since being elected, Kathy has been busy in her new role as Superintendent. Her latest efforts include conducting a thorough audit and review of Arizona’s DOE, to see what is working and what needs improvement then building on the success of what has worked in the past and making improvements in areas where needed. “As someone who was working for the schools, I saw the limited resources and closely followed the policies in our state. Teachers saw themselves being represented in me and knew I could be their voice and the voice for students.”
Aside from in-house efforts, Kathy enjoys community outreach by connecting directly with individuals about first-hand issues. Since grade school, Kathy studied the Japanese language and she currently speaks three languages fluently: English, Japanese and Spanish. Upon graduating from SMA, she lived in Germany for six months then studied abroad in Ecuador and Chile while attending the University of Oregon. Kathy says being trilingual and having the opportunity to immerse herself in other cultures has allowed her to communicate effectively in former and current roles. “When I go out to rural Arizona and I meet with people who live in these tiny towns, I have a more open mind and more ease communicating with them even though it may not be a culture I’m familiar with. I feel I have an ease talking with people and learning about their issues.”
As Kathy continues to live out her dream, she has a message for those seeking out theirs. “Dream big and go for it, don’t let people discourage you. Remember to be true to yourself and be genuine, it goes a long way for being successful in any type of endeavor.”