The leader of Colorado’s second-largest school district is leaving to become Kentucky’s next commissioner of education. Dr. Jason Glass has served as superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools since 2017. He will stay in that role for another 60 days to usher in the start of the next school year as an unprecedented global pandemic continues.
“Kentucky is my home state and the opportunity to come back and serve in a place that gave so much to me, and in my beginnings was really strong, and the chance to be close to family was the reason that I threw my name in,” he told CPR News.
Glass, 48, said he also feels that he’s reached the point in his 25-year career where he has the experience and ability to serve the state of Kentucky. Last year, his JeffCo contract was amended to run through June of 2025.
“It's a loss to JeffCo,” said school board president Susan Harmon. “He's been a great leader. He was really strategic about reinvigorating our strategic plan, focusing on transforming the student learning experience, and bringing life to the classrooms for our students and teachers.”
Glass began his career teaching high school social studies in Kentucky and worked as a university instructor as a graduate student at the University of Kentucky. Prior to becoming JeffCo’s “chief learner,” as his email signature states, he was superintendent of Eagle County Schools and also served as Iowa’s director of education from 2010 to 2013.
Glass arrived at JeffCo at a time when the school district was still dealing with deep divisions that dated back to 2013. When hired, his primary goal was to unify the 85,000-student district.
For years, teachers and some community members balked at a conservative board majority focused on school choice and a new history curriculum that also prompted student walkouts in 2014. Voters recalled the controversial board during a turbulent 2015 election.
Glass dedicated part of his first year to building coalitions, attending community events and getting to know business owners, community leaders and residents. That helped lay the groundwork for successfully passing a mill levy and bond in 2018, after several unsuccessful attempts in prior years.
Glass cites passing the property tax increase as one of his major accomplishments during his tenure at JeffCo. It’s paid for teacher compensation, security enhancements, more educational experiences for students, one-to-one laptops, building improvements, mental health supports, and more, he said.
In 2019, Glass oversaw a community discussion about whether it was time to tear down the Columbine High School building twenty years after two gunmen attacked it in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. After a tumultuous 20th anniversary, Glass cited “intractable challenges” in operating a school that had become a tourist destination. But ultimately the community decided to keep the school standing.
What animated Glass the most during his tenure, he said, was the challenge of moving from an educational model focused on tests to one that was more hands-on and skills-focused. The ideas eventually became the district’s strategic plan, known as JeffCo Generations. It calls for embracing new ways of delivering education, encouraging innovation in the classroom, and re-focusing education on the student “task,” described as what the student does, practices and experiences.
“Content is important. But what is more important is what a student can do with that content in a changing world and how they use both knowledge and skills in pursuit of their individual passion,” he said.
Glass said since the plan’s launch, progress has been made in shifting the type of education that students receive in classrooms.
“This is a significantly different and new model of education that we're trying to put in place,” he said. “So I commend the staff here and the students that have worked on that. I'm seeing great transformations and breakthroughs and learning taking place already.”
But COVID-19 has disrupted that progress, requiring the district to rapidly transition to online learning when schools shuttered in March, he said. Despite the current challenges, Superintendent Glass said his last request to the district and the community will be for the innovation to continue.
“The virus, at some point, is not going to be ruling our lives anymore,” he said. “We're going to get past this, and we have to keep moving forward that work of really transforming the curiosity our students have so that they’re ready for the future.”
In his final 60 days, there’s still much work to be done, Glass said. That includes finalizing restart plans and continuing anti-racism and equity conversations. The district released its final restart plan this week.
“Anyone who believes they know with certainty what's going to happen in August I think is overstating the case,” he said. “We've got a lot of work still to do on how we safely restart school and keep our kids and staff and community safe.”