When Jason Glass was recruited to oversee more than 300 Iowa school districts as the state’s director of education, he was known for his work in Colorado’s Eagle County tying teacher pay to student performance.
The Republican governor who appointed Glass in Iowa called him a “reform-minded leader” and put him to work to explore similar models for Iowa’s teachers.
Over time, both while in Iowa and after returning to serve as superintendent of Eagle County Schools, Glass changed some of his thoughts on education reform. He said it happened while he was looking at education systems around the world and found that many of the popular reforms in the U.S. “were not a strong ingredient” in other systems around the world. Addressing student needs was, he said.
“Unless you’re doing something to impact poverty, you’re really not changing outcomes,” Glass said. “It changed my focus.”
Glass’s views are front and center as he is set to take on a more prominent role as the next superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district. Pending contract negotiations and a final vote Tuesday night, he will begin the role July 1.
Glass was the sole finalist of a school board that won election with support from a coalition that included well-connected parents and the teachers union.
In Eagle County, Glass is admired by the local union. He said he no longer believes in performance pay for teachers, but advocates for other ways to pay teachers other than under traditional models. He’s been critical of testing in Colorado. He believes charter schools should meet high bars, including showing quality in instruction.
“I’m most interested in getting something done,” Glass said. “That can take on different forms.”
Jeffco board members who picked Glass as sole finalist for the job praised his ability to work with different people, his work on rolling out a biliteracy seal in his district to encourage bilingual students and for “doing his homework” on Jeffco’s master plan.
The Jeffco board launched a national search earlier this spring to find a new leader.
The last superintendent, Dan McMinimee, was hired by a previous school board in a majority decision by three conservative board members who were later recalled. Three of the five current school board members are up for re-election this November.
“I really admire this board,” Glass said. “It took a lot of courage for them to run.”
Even before officially starting, Glass has been meeting groups of staff and visiting schools. On Thursday, he visited Arvada High School, where two students gave him a tour of the school and told him about the programs they say make their school great.
Glass was quiet, mostly listening to the students and asking occasional questions.
He said he won’t start work in Jeffco with an agenda.
“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”
He said he will consider whether Jeffco could offer a biliteracy seal — a credential given to graduating students who meet requirements to prove they are fluent in two languages.
Talking about his views on budget issues facing most Colorado districts, Glass said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs — services that cash-strapped districts often have to cut.
Glass said it is clear the district needs someone to unite the community.
“It’s a place that needs a strong leader, a relationship-builder,” Glass said. “Those are skill sets that I have and areas that I’ve been successful in.”
His job application highlighted that voters in Eagle County in November approved a tax increase for the district. Jeffco failed to pass two tax increase measures in November.
Charlie Edwards, the president of the Iowa State Board of Education, agrees that Glass has learned to work well with various groups.
Edwards said that when Glass started in Iowa and was working to create a statewide model of teacher pay and to create new academic standards, the hundreds of school districts used to having local control were skeptical.
“There was initially quite a bit of resistance,” Edwards said. “He worked through a lot of it. It was not an easy sell.”
Now people describe Glass as a supporter of teachers.
When he returned to Colorado after working in Iowa, Glass negotiated a contract with the school district that tied his own pay raises to teacher pay raises. It was something important to the community at the time, Glass said, because they worried about a previous leader that took pay raises while teacher salaries lagged.
Glass also rolled back the performance-pay model that he helped create as the district’s director of human resources. Now, teacher pay is more traditional but with some added performance bonuses.
“He is very supportive of what we do,” said Megan Orvis, president of the Eagle County Education Association.