The leader of the state Department of Education will retire next month. Judy Jeffrey started out as a teacher in Goldfield and says now is the time to end her education career. Jeffrey says a combination of a lot of things made her decide to retire, including age, family matters, grandchildren, and the need to go on with another chapter of her life.

Jeffrey joined the Department of Education in 1996, and then took over the top job in 2004. She says the department accomplished a lot of things in that time. Jeffrey says they implemented the major teacher quality legislation, they’ve begun implement the Iowa core curriculum, they’re implementing the voluntary pre-school for four-year-olds, they’ve revamped the teach and administrator preparation program. “So it’s really been an exciting ride, and quite a time for use to re-think education in this state,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey says she believes the state is doing a good job of educating kids — but has room for improvement. She says the measure of education depends on what measuring stick you use. Jeffrey says if you use standardized test scores, they could do better. She says the state is always at the top for graduation rates and college test scores if those are used as a measure. Jeffrey says she believes the standardized tests scores will improve.

Jeffrey says this is a time when school districts are facing many challenges. Jeffrey says they are under financial stress from the economic conditions, they face higher expectations for student achievement, there are measures from the federal government for teacher and principal effectiveness. These are part of what she says are “innumerable challenges” facing the districts along with the decline in the state’s population and declines in enrollment.

Jeffrey admits the top education post is one where there are plenty of people with ideas on how things should be run. Jeffrey says everyone with a child, a neighbor or grandchild, or those who have been in an Iowa school, has their own opinion about how the schools should operate, the results they should get, and kinds of teachers they should have. “So you are constantly dealing with an occupation that everyone has their own personal opinions about, so it does make it a little harder to lead,” Jeffrey says.

She has this advice for the next person to fill the job. “Stay the course in having a vision that is for the benefit of the students always, The students have to come first in all of the decisions you make,” Jeffrey says, “and sometimes that gets a little hard, but if you keep them at the center and at the core of your being, you will be just fine.”

Jeffrey, who is 68, will retire May 3rd. The governor has named Kevin Fangman, the current Division Administrator for PK-12 education to take over as acting director until a permanent replacement is named.