Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise named NASBE Policy Leader of the Year
Ryan Wise, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, has been named the National Association of State Boards of Education’s (NASBE) 2017 Policy Leader of Year.
Wise, who has been Iowa’s education chief since 2015, was nominated by State Board of Education Member Brooke Axiotis, who is a member of NASBE’s board of directors.
The award is given annually to a national or state policymaker in recognition of his or her contributions to education. Last year’s recipient was Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
“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 form, 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, 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. 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 said.
Wise joined the Department in 2012 to facilitate a state task force that laid the foundation for Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System (TLC), the centerpiece of an education reform package adopted by legislators in 2013. TLC is the most comprehensive teacher leadership system in the nation. It is designed to reward effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay, attracts promising new teachers with competitive starting salaries and more support, and fosters greater collaboration for all teachers to learn from each other. The overriding goal of TLC is to improve instruction in the classrooms. Today, all of the state’s 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 an ambitious goal of 70 percent of Iowans in the 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 has included the formation of advisory groups and statewide feedback tours on such initiatives as development of 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 also has made it a priority to visit schools throughout the state each week, having 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. Wise also worked to eliminate educational 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.
Wise 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.