A reflection. A goodbye.
I was recently asked to provide a reflection on my time as director of the Iowa Department of Education. I based my reflection on this adage – how we spend our time reflects what we value. One way I’ve examined how I spent my time as director, and what I’ve valued in this role, was to look back at the 55 monthly columns I wrote on my blog.
Interestingly, my most frequently mentioned topics broke neatly into three tiers. In the top tier were four topics that I focused on in ten of my columns. And if you’ve been a regular reader of my column, these will not come as a surprise: Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system, reflections on my school visits, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Future Ready Iowa.
The second tier included five topics I wrote about in seven of my columns: student mental health, career and technical education, accountability and support efforts like the Iowa School Performance Profiles, student assessment and Iowa’s Early Literacy Initiative.
In the final tier were three items I highlighted in five of my columns: academic standards, work-based learning (including the Work-Based Learning Clearinghouse) and computer science.
Another way I looked at how I spent my time and the issues I prioritized was to revisit the “stump speech” I crafted and delivered to every group that would have me as I transitioned into the role after serving for two years as deputy director. I was struck by the degree to which I still focus on the same big themes: the mission, vision and core functions of the Iowa Department of Education.
Today, as it was then, I’ve emphasized the Department’s mission, which is focused on creating excellence in education through leadership and service. Over time, though, I’ve worked with the Department staff to refine our vision to focus clearly and concisely on ensuring all learners are safe, healthy, engaged and prepared.
I’ve also maintained the belief in, and focus on, the Department of Education’s five critical functions:
First, we partner with stakeholders to effectively implement federal and state education policy.
Second, we provide and interpret information and data to support transparency, accountability and continuous improvement.
Third, we communicate a compelling and consistent vision for education in Iowa.
Fourth, we convene critical conversations.
Finally, we have the ability to pilot and scale promising practices.
These core functions, coupled with our mission and vision, have helped me decide where to consistently put my time, energy and efforts during my time as director.
As I quickly approach my final day on March 13, I will leave feeling proud of the advances our education system has made – from the development of the Early Literacy Initiative, to the creation and implementation of TLC, and the redesign of career and technical education. And I will always be grateful to Governor Branstad and to Governor Reynolds for entrusting me with the great honor and responsibility to help lead this work.
And let me close my final director’s column with two additional notes of gratitude. First, to the dedicated, talented staff at the Iowa Department of Education who are committed to strengthening education in Iowa. And finally, thank you to the thousands of educators who welcomed me into their schools and provided me with the insight that comes from directly serving Iowa’s students and families. I benefited from your guidance and I wish you the best as you continue to strengthen teaching and learning in our great state.
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