New Iowa Department of Education Director stresses teacher development


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Brad Buck, the new director of the Iowa Department of Education, promoted a few broad ideas on how to improve Iowa’s education system during a visit to the University of Iowa campus Tuesday.

During a packed presentation at the College of Education’s Lindquist Center, Buck noted his main short-term goal is to focus on strengthening teacher education in the classroom, leading to improved student development.

Under his plan, the 44-year-old said, “teachers [would] have an opportunity to teach and coach one another.” 

Buck said there are several different forms that this idea could take, and districts could be flexible in implementing them.

One of the ways the initiative could work is to introduce “teaching coaches”, who would provide critiques to individual teachers.

“These mentors... [would] teach other teachers the particular strategies that will help their kids improve,” Buck said. “It’s really designed to change classroom practice.”

Another possible form would be a model classroom, with actual students, taught by one of these teaching coaches. Other teachers could observe the class and learn how to improve their own teaching, Buck said.

Buck was formerly the superintendent of the Saydel School District in Polk County before Governor Branstad appointed him to the director position, so the Cedar Rapids native has already developed some of the connections he will need in his new role.

“I know a lot of the major players,” Buck said. “I’ve had the advantage of having those relationships and knowing those people.”

UI College of Education Interim Dean Nicholas Colangelo said the UI will be able to adapt to many of Buck’s ideas.

“We all want what’s going to make Iowa schools the best,” Colangelo said. “I think it’s more about adapting to a shared vision.”

Because his experience is in K-12 education, Buck — also a former middle-school science teacher — said he still needs to get used to interacting with larger institutions such as the UI, which is one of the reasons he visited the UI campus.

Hopefully, Buck said, the Iowa Dept. of Education will be able to work with the UI in the future.

“I think there would be a STEM [Science Technology Engineering, and Math] connection,” Buck said. “I think we’ll be excited to see how [the STEM initiative] unfolds.”

Another goal he will be working on is aligning the Iowa Dept. of Education with area education agencies and local school districts.

“It may be that not all three of those are working on the same things,” Buck said. “What we are trying to do is align those systems, so that we’re all working [together.]”

Former Iowa City Community School Board member Sarah Swisher said that change will be good for education, and the resources are there.

“If they’re heading towards supporting innovations...I’d be happy,” Swisher said. “I think we have the funding available and we need to take advantage of it.”

Buck said that the former Iowa director of education, Jason Glass, did a good job laying the framework for change, he just didn’t have enough time to implement it.

“He did a lot of work to get a lot of important conversations started,” Buck said. “My responsibility is to move forward in a positive way.”

Buck said he wants to establish better relationships between the department and schools, as well as between teachers, and this will lead to better education in the state.

“Everything is about relationships,” Buck said. “It’s true in the classroom and it’s true in this job.”

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