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In Conversation With ... Jason Glass

Jason Glass

Kentucky School Advocate
October 2020

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. Kentucky native Jason Glass began his job the state’s new education commissioner in September. He most recently was superintendent of the second-largest school district in Colorado.

Q. You’re a Kentucky native, but you have worked in education in Ohio, Iowa and Colorado. Why did you want to become Kentucky’s education commissioner?

A. 
The position spoke to me about coming back to the state that had given so much to me – from a great public education and university experience to the start of my professional career and the chance to be part of a generational family of educators in this state. I was also excited about working with the state board because of the caliber and backgrounds of the people Gov. Beshear had appointed. I felt there was an opportunity to really accomplish something important here.

Q. What struck you about the make up of the board?

A.
They are people who are passionate about education. The board is stacked deeply with practitioners who have a track record and knowledge of education. It is sort of a star-studded cast of people who have accomplished a lot and who are respected in the state. Not to mention that the lieutenant governor is also secretary of education and sits on the state board. That is a significant difference from what you see in a lot of states. It brings some gravitas and political firepower that you don’t often see on a state board.

Q. Did the relatively short tenures of the two prior education commissioners concern you?

A.
Sure it did. You would be foolish to think that could not happen to you. But in the leadership roles I have been taking on in my professional career that is always a danger. I believe that every leader is temporary. Our responsibility is to do as much good in the time that we have.

Q. In addition to commissioner, you like to use the term “chief learner.” What does that mean to you?

A. 
It’s recognition that learning never stops. John Dewey taught us that learning is life and is part of what makes living worthwhile. Especially as an education professional, I need to show that being a professional means continuing to grow and improve in your practice through learning.

Q. What do you see as the role of local school board members in Kentucky public education?

A.
To act as the voice and conscience of the community and make sure the community’s values are reflected in the decisions the board makes. Elected boards should transcend politics and party; they should be about a community’s love for its kids and that connection between communities and their schools. Elected school boards are how we keep the connection tight between school and community.

Jason Glass, a Meade County High School and University of Kentucky graduate, taught social studies at Hazard Independent early in his career. He has served as Iowa's education commissioner and director of research and assessment at the Colorado Department of Education.  

 Q. As a former superintendent, you have worked with boards. What advice can you share for school board members and superintendents to work as a team?A.

At its best, there is tight alignment on what they want to accomplish together and there is support for the superintendent to carry out the strategies to achieve that goal. There is also support given to the board in how they can be effective in governing and providing direction. I think it is best when the relationships are mutually respectful and supportive with tight alignment around what the district wants to achieve for its kids.

Q. You’ve asked all Kentuckians what KDE and our schools should stop doing, keep doing and start doing? How will you use the feedback?

A. 
The “keep” aspect asks ‘What are you proud of, what do you want to hang on to?’ because there are tremendous elements of our education system that we should hang our hat on. There are also things that may have outlived their purpose, things that you need to leave behind. Then there is the aspirational aspect, ‘What should and could school be?’ We hope we get a lot of feedback to spur great discussion around the state and then expand the conversation about where we go next based on what we’ve heard from Kentuckians. Significant change in Kentucky needs to be based on the values and desires of Kentuckians for their schools and their hopes and dreams for their children.

Q. Have you used this process in the past?

A.
Yes, in Iowa and in two school districts, and I have found it to be an effective way to get a conversation going in a way that is not defensive and doesn't turn people off. Anyone can enter into the conversation; you don’t have to be an expert of any sort. (You can find the survey at bit.ly/KDEsurvey.)

Q. Based on feedback so far, what is something you think we should stop doing, keep doing and start doing?

A. 
We’re seeing trends in all categories but for now I want to let the conversation play out. It is important that I don’t intervene because what I think doesn’t really matter. I am temporary, as is anyone in this role, so if we are going to have something that lasts and has meaning and impact on the educational experiences of students, it needs to be based on what the people want.

Q. The Kentucky General Assembly will convene in January. What will your priorities be?

A. 
Funding and how to stabilize it. We are already seeing significant disruption in budgets, and we have done our best to minimize how that impacts direct services to students and keep it from impacting people’s jobs. But we are likely to see the cuts we are feeling this year become compounded next year. If that happens there is almost no way we can insulate direct services to students and jobs from reductions. How to stabilize funding needs to be everyone’s priority.

Q. Kentucky law allows charter schools to be authorized but the only application Kentucky has received was denied. Do you believe charter schools have a role in Kentucky public education?

A. 
My perspective on charter schools is complicated and doesn’t usually satisfy critics or supporters. I have worked with charter schools in Iowa and Colorado. The district I left in Colorado had 15 charter schools and I worked to support them; I wanted them to succeed because they had kids from the community. On the upside they have created some innovative instructional models and some positive pressures from school choice competition did lead to some improvements. On the other side we don’t have evidence that charter schools raise the performance or outcomes across the board in state or district education systems. And charter schools can lead to greater inequities when they are created as a way to segregate white affluent kids from black, brown and poor kids. If we expand where public funds for education can be spent we need to be damn strong that when you take the public funds you also commit to serving every child in that community. That is the obligation public schools have. And if a charter school or private school is receiving public dollars they need to accept the moral responsibilities that come with those public funds.

Q. What is one of the long-term goals you want to achieve as education commissioner?

A. 
There is a real spirit to get back to the pride that Kentucky had after KERA was passed and we became a national leader in education reform. The challenge is that everybody has a different opinion of what that change needs to be now. So the conversations about what to keep, stop and start is a part of the larger conversation we need to have over the next year or so.

While some of the forces that were pressuring Kentucky in 1989 are still here, the world is different because of globalization, instant access to information and automation and artificial intelligence. Those pressures need to be part of our discussion. If our major educational reform effort ends up being about standards, testing, accountability, evaluation and school choice, well those are policies put in place 20 years ago, and I’m not sure they are going to lift us into the kind of educational system we need, given the pressures that we face today.

Q. What does a successful first year as education commissioner look like for you?

A. 
The state board just yesterday set goals for me and although they are still in draft form, they generally involve things we have talked bout – bringing together a statewide conversation about the future of education, forming a consensus about future direction and creating a vision document.

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