Todd Jones, social studies teacher, is taking a sabbatical from teaching to work with the state government to make Oregon’s education system better. For 14 years, Jones has taught classes at West Linn such as AP Government and International Relations. Now, as a staff member serving Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office and the Oregon Education Investment Board, Jones is helping the state government serve the needs of school districts across the state.
The OEIB was created by Oregon Senate Bill 909, with the purpose of improving Oregon’s public education system. Currently, this goal includes reorganizing the state education budget and improving education standards. The long-term goal is ensuring that all Oregonians have a high school diploma or an equivalent by the year 2025.
While Jones is not a member of the actual board, his work as a staff member is crucial to helping it make decisions about how to improve Oregon’s education.
“My primary responsibilities include outreach, traveling the state to tell people what we’re up to and learn their questions and ideas, and policy research,” Jones said. “[I’m] discovering the ‘best practices’ in Oregon, around the country and around the world from which we can learn as we develop our system.”
Jones was selected to work in the state government by Kitzhaber’s chief of staff through the Chalkboard Project, an Oregon-based organization dedicated to improving public education.
“[Kitzhaber’s] office asked the Chalkboard Project if they would recommend someone to serve as a policy coordinator, and Chalkboard recommended me,” Jones said.
Jones recognizes that in working in state government, he is quite close to those the OEIB’s work will affect; this connection may not exist if he were in national government. He has taught the theory and practice of national government for several years, and is now becoming more familiar with that of state government.
“State government is closer to the people – people can engage with state government more, impact it more,” Jones said. “We have a citizen legislature, and our legislators live in their home districts and are, by and large, very responsive to their constituency.”
Jones’s work as a teacher has helped him develop his own philosophy about education improvement, centering mostly on “quality teaching… recruiting great people to teach, thoroughly preparing prospective teachers, providing mentorship for new teachers, and supporting the professional development of experienced teachers.”
To Jones, however, the government work is crucial to his development as a teacher, more so than his teaching experience helps him as he works for the state.
“It’s not so much what I’m learning about government as what I’m learning about teaching,” Jones said. “In these first six weeks I’ve had the opportunity to travel the state a bit and discover exciting work other teachers are doing. I can’t imagine how much more I’m going to learn over the coming months.”