Iowa education director named NASBE Policy Leader of the Year

Date: 
September 07, 2017

Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise has been named the National Association of State Boards of Education’s (NASBE) 2017 Policy Leader of the Year. The award is given annually to a national or state policymaker in recognition of their contributions to education. Last year’s recipient was Delaware governor Jack Markell.

Wise has been Iowa’s education chief since 2015. He was nominated by State Board of Education and NASBE Board of Directors member Brooke Axiotis.

“I nominated Director Wise because I believe that his work in Iowa deserved to be recognized on a national level,” Axiotis said. “Additionally, I believe this is a great opportunity to share Iowa’s accomplishments with other state boards of education.”

In her nomination, Axiotis credited Wise with leading “bold statewide education initiatives designed to prepare students for success in high school and beyond.” The initiatives include full implementation of Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System (TLC), an early literacy initiative to ensure Iowa students are proficient readers by the end of third grade, a redesign of career and technical education and ongoing development and revision of Iowa’s academic standards.

Wise said he sees the award as a reflection of Iowa’s collaborative spirit in education improvement.

“I’m deeply grateful for this award, although it represents something much larger than one person,” he said. “This award exemplifies all Iowans who have worked together to make our schools into places where adults can collaborate and students can thrive. I visit schools across the state each week to stay connected to the classroom, and it’s inspiring to see how statewide improvement efforts are making a difference.”

Wise joined the department in 2012 to facilitate a state task force that laid the foundation for TLC, the centerpiece of an education reform packaged adopted by legislators in 2013. TLC is the most comprehensive teacher leadership system in the nation, designed to reward effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay, attract promising new teachers with competitive starting salaries and more support and foster greater collaboration for all teachers to learn from each other. The overriding goal of TLC is to improve instruction in the classroom. Today, all of Iowa’s 333 districts are implementing a local teacher leadership plan.

Iowa continues to lead the country in high school graduation rates and remains the only state with a four-year graduation rate above 90 percent. At the same time, under Wise’s leadership, Iowa is setting the stage to translate its outstanding graduation rate into postsecondary success.

As the Iowa Department of Education director, Wise has held a key leadership position on a statewide Future Ready Iowa Alliance created to meet the goal of 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce having education or training beyond high school by 2025.

He has approached far-reaching statewide policy initiatives with a spirit of transparency and collaboration. This includes the formation of advisory groups and statewide feedback tours on such initiatives as Iowa’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan, an ongoing review of statewide academic standards and the design and creation of a new web-based state school rating system.

Wise has also made it a priority to visit schools throughout the state each week and has accumulated more than 100 visits to Iowa school districts.

Wise began his career as a high school history teacher in Mississippi and Nebraska before moving to his home state of South Dakota to launch and lead Teach for America on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. He also worked to eliminate education inequity around the world as one of the pioneering staff members of Teach for All, a global network of entrepreneurs.

Wise earned a doctorate in education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a bachelor’s degree in history from Creighton University.

He lives in Des Moines with his wife, Sacha, and their two sons, Weston and Graham. Their sons are students in the Des Moines Public Schools.