SHERIDAN — Education issues in Wyoming could have a more amplified voice on the national stage.
Jillian Balow, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, was recently voted president-elect for the Council of Chief State School Officers board of directors. The CCSSO is a national nonprofit organization composed of education officials from all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and several other U.S. territories. Balow is the first Wyoming official to serve as president-elect of the organization. She received the most votes in November 2018 from the CCSSO full membership, which is comprised of 59 people.
Balow said she was honored to be elected and is excited to serve in a more substantial role on the CCSSO.
“When I was elected (Wyoming superintendent in 2014), there were a lot of organizations that reached out to me and said, ‘We can help you with X or Y or Z,’” Balow said. “For about this first year, I really didn’t know how to discern which organizations would be be most helpful, but from the get-go it was really clear the Council of Chief State School Officers would be an excellent resource for me as the chief as well as our staff.”
Balow will spend one year as president-elect, one year as president and one year as past president.
Stephen Bowen, CCSSO deputy executive director, state leadership, said the three one-year terms allow for continuity among board leadership.
In the presidential role that she will assume this November, Balow will speak often with members of U.S. Congress and publications regarding education issues.
“In essence, CCSSO members set the agenda for what we want to see with respect to national education policies,” Balow said.
Before becoming president in November, Balow must select a national platform on which to focus. She said some possibilities include school safety and security, student well-being, local school district control and computer science.
“I haven’t really nailed down what my area of emphasis will be,” Balow said. “I’ll be thinking about that but not too outwardly until I take the role of president in November.”
Over the upcoming summer and fall, Balow and the CSSO board will talk about potential national platform topics.
“It’s an iterative process,” Bowen said. “… It’s not something they just pull out of thin air. It’s talking with the other board members: ‘What’s kind of an issue that seems like it ought to get a little more focus?’”
The nine-person CCSSO board meets in person three times per year and conducts monthly meetings over the phone.
In her larger role, Balow hopes to give Wyoming a louder voice at the national table, noting that schools in cities and rural areas differ in nearly aspect.
“A lot of federal education policy was being formulated and built and decide upon with sort of urban schools and urban demographics in mind,” Balow said. “… Whether we’re talking about school assessment or accountability, it’s just a different dynamic. You can say, ‘kids are kids are kids,’ which is true, but the setting really makes a difference.”
Bowen said Balow and other board members also serve as an informal sounding board for the CCSSO about various topical issues.
“Jillian has always been great to be responsive to us,” Bowen said.
Bowen said it has been great having Balow on the board and hearing her perspective from a western state on issues like school safety in rural areas.
Balow is on the CCSSO national school safety and security steering committee and discusses the different needs caused by settings, such as finding a requisite supply of school resource officers.
Sheridan County School District 3 superintendent Charles Auzqui mentioned the issue during the Dec. 4 legislative forum. SCSD3 is the state’s smallest school district and sits in an isolated area that makes law enforcement response time challenging if a school safety issue occurs.
“We’re rural,” Auzqui said. “If there are things that are going to happen (and) we have a building that’s locked down, the reality for us is we’re 50 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes away from [law enforcement] being on site … We have to be creative in what we’re doing.”
In her new role, Balow aims to place more of an emphasis on rural education, something that should benefit Wyoming schools.