The director of the Iowa Department of Education retired last month and some are recommending that Governor Culver look outside the education establishment for a replacement.

Judy Jeffrey, a former classroom teacher, worked in the Iowa Department of Education for 14 years — the last six years as its director. Jeffrey says her successor needs to be able to communicate with those who aren’t familiar with the lingo of the education establishment. 

 “Every occupation has its own language and you can expect that,” Jeffrey says. “But you have to be able to translate that to the people who do make the policies and provide the resources.” 

State Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City who is a former classroom teacher, says it may be time to look for an education director who has experience elsewhere. “You know, I think we have to start thinking outside the box and not limit it to educational folks only,” Mascher says. 

Mascher wants a “change agent” to be the next head of the education department. “Somebody who really and truly will be able to identify a path and then how to get there,” Mascher says. 

But Jeffrey argues that putting someone in her old job who doesn’t have an education background would backfire.  “Education is not a business.  Education is a service that we provide for our children of Iowa,” Jeffrey says.  “So you need an individual who truly understands the needs of the students and the curriculum and the instruction that needs to take place in our schools because it’s very hard to lead educators if you truly don’t understand just sort of the make-up of education.”

Des Moines School Board member Margaret Buckton says the person the governor chooses should have a track record of improving an education system somewhere, even out of state. “That they’re not going to come into this role without having demonstrated some change, being able to lead from where they were to a higher level of performance,” Buckton says. 

Governor Culver has appointed an interim director of the agency and has not said when he might appoint a permanent director.  For example, Culver took a little more than a year to name a permanent leader of the Iowa Veterans Home and the Iowa Lottery had an interim director for 462 days before Culver named a permanent chief executive in February of 2009.  Culver has said he wants a new education director who will “raise the bar” for student achievement.

“We have some outstanding applicants and we will move as quickly as we possibly can,” Culver says. 

The acting director of the Iowa Department of Education is Kevin Fangman.  Fangman is a 1986 graduate of Western Dubuque High School who hold an undergraduate degree from the University of Nothern Iowa and a masters from Iowa State University.  He was an elementary principal in Ottumwa, Ames and West Des Moines. Fangman  was became administrator of the Department of Education’s PK-12 division in 2007 and he took over as the department’s acting director in May.