CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- The newly appointed interim director of the state Department of Education has a lot of homework to do.
Jim Rose was appointed Tuesday by Gov. Matt Mead to fill the spot. Rose said he has spent much of his time since then learning about the department.
“We all see this as a challenge and an opportunity,” he said. “I’ve had a great deal of support from the people here, and that gives me a lot of confidence and optimism about the work we have to do.”
Rose said he was surprised when he was asked to consider stepping into the role, but he appreciated the offer.
Legislators who supported the change say Rose’s appointment is appreciated as well.
“(I was) kind of surprised but think (the) governor made a good choice,” said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, who was a sponsor of the legislation that created the job. Coe also praised Rose's experience and temperament.
Rose said his first projects at the agency are to get a more solid understanding of what’s going on, clarify some staff members' uncertainty and take a look at the financial aspects. That would include doing things like reviewing the agency’s contracts, he said.
“There is just a multitude of statutory requirements that have deadlines attached to them. Be they federal or state, we are responsible,” he said.
“By next Friday, I (want to) have a better idea of what those are and have a reasonable, preliminary plan sketched out as to how we’re going to get them all done. Some of them can’t wait, so they’re high on the list.”
Legislators have said they were looking for the interim director to stabilize the agency and get work back on track with the state’s accountability project.
Said Coe, “With a functioning department coming back on board, the accountability will move forward. We have to move forward with that because it’s law. (I) would hope that the interim director would focus on that.”
That also is high on Rose’s list.
“I want to make some serious progress on the whole accountability and assessment,” he said. “I don’t want to just hand over the keys to a permanent director at some point and say, ‘We didn’t get any of this done. Good luck.’”
But he said other than what’s in the bill that created his position, he hasn’t been told how to do his job.
“[I’ve] had a lot of very much-appreciated suggestions and guidance. But the governor hasn’t said, ‘Here’s how I want you to do your job. Here’s what I want,’” Rose said.
“He’s got enough trust in me to say, ‘I want you to make decisions.’ Frankly, the legislation that was passed and he signed was pretty explicit.”
In addition to work on accountability, Rose handles school district block grants, federal program funding and district audits.
He also is responsible for setting up some high school testing, working on a statewide technology plan and supporting students with disabilities, the legislation says.
He also is a nonvoting member on the State Board of Education, where he’ll work with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. When Rose became interim director he took over some of Hill’s duties.
But Rose said he has a previous working relationship with Hill, and he expects that to continue.
“[She] said she believes we need to work together, and I heartily agree,” he said. “I don’t have any reason to think that this isn’t going to be an amicable relationship.”
He also remains the executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission.
That is a position he will be keeping while working with the education department. It would have taken several months to find someone to fill his job at the commission and to bring that person up to speed there, he said.
“Rather than say we need to find somebody just as a body to fill my office and then I could stay here all the time, I’ve basically said I’m going to go back and forth,” Rose said.
His staff members at the commission will take on some of his duties, though he’ll also retain some.
“I have a really very, very competent and qualified and professional staff,” Rose said. “They’re willing to pick up some of the duties that I normally would pick up. We’re getting the job done.”
The permanent director at the education agency is to be selected by December, the legislation reads.
By that time, Rose said, he expects to have made progress on accountability and strengthened a functioning department where employees know their jobs and work together.
"(What) I’m able to pass on is a functioning agency that knows its mission, that has people I know are already here working in areas where they’re supported, appreciated, where the work they’re doing is collaborative and of value to the people out there,” he said.
“The most important thing we need to do is to be creating environments and giving those thousands of professionals out there in Wyoming the tools and support they need to help children learn.”
But he did say agency employees will not be required to spend time in classrooms as some were under Hill’s leadership.
“I firmly believe our charge is not to deliver instruction,” he said. “Our responsibility is to facilitate learning.
“No one in my agency is responsible for going into a classroom every single day. We have a little different role than that.”