College workforce ready, Ted Adams shares views on Wyoming education
“I believe the government that governs the least, governs the best. I’m conservative, and I believe the more local the government, the better the government. Not because it’s not flawed, but because it can be fixed more quickly,” says Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction Ted Adams of his political views.
“When the federal government does something wrong, it seems like we never can get it changed. In local government, when they do something wrong we seem to be able to turn things around. That’s my theory of action,” states Adams.
“The reason I’m running is because I believe this is a public service,” he says, adding he’s been in education for 39 years.
“Wyoming is positioned with a funding model and a size and scope, with 48 school districts, 49 including the BIA, where we know each other personally and can make commitments and work together,” he says. “If there were ever a time someone needed to step up with the kind of background I have, now would be the time. That’s why I’m in the race.”
Adams came to Wyoming in 1966 to attend college at the University of Wyoming, where he later returned for further education and to coach the Cowboy wrestling team. Adams has taught in Thermopolis, his first job, and has worked in Green River and Worland. From there he traveled to Indiana, Arizona, Utah, New York, Indiana, and Oregon, working with educational systems to improve the educational system nationwide.
“I had the opportunity to come back to Cheyenne as superintendent, and that was three years ago, and that’s where I am today,” says Adams.
“In the state of Wyoming, education is the most important enterprise we have today. It’s our economic development engine, and it’s essential that in an information age we be effective,” says Adams, adding that the focus doesn’t need to be on self-directed learners. “It’s the disadvantaged population where we need to be effective.”
“I think our Wyoming quality of life, and its sustainability, is tied up in our ability to educate our kids,” continues Adams. “Good preservation and stewardship of our quality of life, our ag communities, the shared use of land, protecting private property and individual liberty are all tied up in what we do with schools.”
“For the last three years I’ve seen a failure in leadership causing us to focus our educational system on the federal need for test scores, and that’s really a failure of leadership at the state level,” comments Adams. “It’s not that we don’t have to comply, it’s that compliance can’t ever lead the train. It has to be commitment.”
In his opinion, Adams says a large component of compliance with the federal government is based on hard-nosed negotiating. “Instead of taking orders from the U.S. Department of Education, we have to say, ‘This is the way we’re going to do it,’ and then show them how it meets their standards. We work the political system to get what we want, so we can stay focused on our kids.”
“Every one of our kids needs to be college ready and workforce ready. Not all of them are going to get baccalaureate degrees, because that’s not what we are. Most of them will get technical degrees. We’ve got to prepare them to learn for a lifetime in an information age,” says Adams.
To accomplish that, Adams points out that the Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction is not just focused on K-12 education. “The statute, duties and responsibilities are to make the whole system, K-20, work,” says Adams, noting the Superintendent also sits on the University of Wyoming board as an ex officio member. “The statute is really clear that the duty and responsibility is to create a highly effective and efficient educational system for the citizens of Wyoming.”
In addition to taking some control back from the federal government, Adams says Wyoming should work together to develop a database of students and teachers and their interaction.
“This state has 79,000 public school students, and about 115,000 students total. There are school districts in this country with twice that many.
“Why wouldn’t we have our own data system, with all our student information around attendance, achievement, behavior and all the way through, and another databases on employees, teachers, credentials and training, and another around financial investments? If you put that data into a warehouse, programmers can write programs and tie student achievement to teacher interaction.”
Adams says what’s happening is that the 48 school districts are building their own. “We don’t have the wealth to do it right individually, but all of us together could do it right,” he notes.
Responding to the question of overstaffing in the Wyoming Department of Education, Adams says, “I’m not sure whether we’ve got people doing the wrong things, or more people than we need and we’ve built our own bureaucracy. If I win the primary I will devote a lot of time to the election and getting inside of that department to find out what’s going on. I’ll ask for access to where these people are and what they’re doing. Where are they? We live in Cheyenne, and we never see them – or anyone from the Department.”
Adams says visibility of the Department of Education in the school districts is the third thing he would address. The fourth is Wyoming’s high school dropout rate.
“We’ve got to create a statewide campaign and a commitment that no student drops out of high school. That’s not just schools’ jobs, but also the chambers of commerce, the faith based community and embedded in the community as a whole to say, ‘You need an education,’” says Adams, noting oilfield jobs that will pay high school students $25 an hour starting wage. “We need to make sure we have technical, career and vocational education, and the Hathaway Program tends to work against that, as students have to choose between staying in the ag program or taking a college bound class for Hathaway.
“Some of the most powerful leadership experiences I’ve seen have come out of ag programs, and those kids learn to lead organizations and systems, and we’ve got to align all that so we’re valuing career and technical education along with academic. They’re not separate, just different ways of learning. I think that’s a powerful place the Superintendent could use his position.”
This year Wyoming had 51 kids graduate as fifth- or sixth-year high school students. “That’s just as valuable, if not more, as those who graduate in four years, because those kids are high-risk for being involved in juvenile criminal areas and being dysfunctional,” says Adams. “We’ve got to have collaboration in the state, otherwise in the good times those kids have a job but can end up in poverty and raising a family, and the next generation comes along without the experiences and skills to be successful in schools. We’ve got to get our employers to not hire those kids for $25.”
“We have to have multiple use,” says Adams of state lands management and the Superintendent’s role in those decisions. “We really have to be open and consider the issues, because they’re not simple. The complex issues on which we make decisions will either preserve and strengthen Wyoming and its quality of life, or break its back and do damage that will ultimately destroy Wyoming. That’s the stewardship responsibility of the elected officials.”
Of the upcoming primaries, Adams says, “An incumbent has a record to run on, and that can be good or bad. Jim McBride’s record indicates he’s not the right person for the job. He’s got six years in there, and I don’t see us headed in the right direction. If I thought we were running in the right direction, I wouldn’t be running. I’d be playing golf.”