Column: Incoming Iowa Education Director Brad Buck has challenges ahead

Navigating Iowa's diverse educational landscape will be a whole new ball game for Buck.

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Incoming Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck has a full plate in front of him.

Not least, the task of implementing the teacher career ladder and compensation system that has long been at the heart of Gov. Terry Branstad's reforms.

Buck's familiarity with the idea is doubtless a big reason why the governor chose the Saydel Community School District superintendent to replace Jason Glass at the helm.

At Saydel, Buck helped secure a five-year, $9.6 million grant to help his and another school district implement performance pay and career ladder systems much like those leaders hope to push statewide over the next few years.

In his application to the governor, Buck wrote that 94 percent of his district's teachers voted "yes" to accept the money and try the new approach. Still, it's kind of a stretch to say, as some have done, that the new education chief has "experience" with career ladders and performance pay.

The grant was only announced late last September. Everything's still brand new. And as impressive as it is to get 94 percent buy-in about -- well, anything, really -- overseeing the design and implementation of a statewide system will be a whole lot different from rallying a cadre of about 100 teachers in a single school district.

Still, Buck has a lot going for him: He's a local, he's worked in several Iowa school districts, he's been through schools of education at the University of Northern Iowa and at Iowa State. As a former president of the School Administrators of Iowa, he's got the respect of his peers.

He's also had a front-row seat for recent reform talks -- he was witness to the ways that first, aggressive push by the governor and Glass fell flat, how they had to regroup and slow down and get a whole lot more collaborative in order to bring some of those plans into being. I hope he was taking notes.

Buck may have a lot of strengths to draw on, but that doesn't mean he won't face a steep learning curve. He's going to have to become deeply familiar with the diversity of Iowa's educational landscape, and quick. Captaining this ship is going to be different from leading a small school district. It's going to be different from every professional challenge he's faced, to date.

Buck is going to need buy-in from a lot of different people to get this career-ladder system off the ground.

He's going to have to be flexible and help craft an implementation plan that's going to work for all these different players.

And he's going to have to branch out, too.

Career ladders and compensation have been a cornerstone of the Branstad reform plan, but that's just one piece of to make our schools relevant in the 21st Century.

l Comments: (319) 339-3154; Brad Buck

Iowa Department of Education director

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