Rod Gramer’s childhood, education and 38-year professional career prepared him for this moment.
He couldn’t be more ready to take over Idaho Business for Education.
The 85 business leaders who comprise IBE also are more than ready for Gramer to rejuvenate their organization, which is attempting to transform its image and increase its influence.
“We will no longer be a missing voice,” Gramer said. “Our only motivation is what’s good for students.”
Last month, Gramer was named president and CEO of IBE, a not-for-profit group.
He didn’t seek out the job. He didn’t aspire to have it. But it fell into his grasp at the perfect time in his life. And possibly at a perfect time for Idaho education — which is at a crossroads after last year’s Students Come First repeal, and as a new set of standards will be implemented this year, amidst rising opposition.
“We are deeply concerned about the future of the state, and have a shared sense of urgency about problems we see today, and the impact in the future of not addressing them now,” said IBE vice chairman Bob Lokken. “We feel strongly that Rod will be great in representing our voice in this discussion. He was without a doubt, the right person at the right time to lead the IBE to its next level of engagement in the topic of the future of Idaho education.”
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How he made his way home
Gramer was born and raised in Boise, graduated from Bishop Kelly High School and the University of Idaho.
Just out of college, he launched into a successful and long journalism career that started at the Idaho Statesman. He began as a general assignment reporter, as most do, and quickly moved into the coveted position of government reporter. His most memorable assignment was covering the 1980 U.S. Senate race when Republican Steve Symms unseated four-term Democratic incumbent Frank Church.
He was political editor and editorial page editor before leaving the Statesman after 14 years to start a 10-year career as news director at KTVB.
He landed more leadership roles at TV stations in Portland for 13 years and in Tampa Bay, Fla., for the last two years. While he managed news content, he also became a savvy businessman and executive who developed a healthy respect for education and the challenges of hiring from today’s young-adult work force.
Gramer planned to finish his career in journalism and then retire to Boise. Instead, after a phone call from a good friend and more calls from Idaho’s most successful business leaders, Gramer was lured back home.
“My experience in the media, covering Idaho politics for 24 years, and my executive experience from running large organizations made this the perfect fit,” Gramer said.
Gramer views this job as more public service.
“Education is a way for people to have rewarding lives, and not just economically,” said Gramer. The first person in his immediate family to graduate from college, Gramer helped both of his children earn degrees.
He also views his new role as critical to successful education reform in Idaho.
“Nothing can happen without the support of the business community,” Gramer said. “We’ve got to be successful, that is non-negotiable.
“The IBE can be a driving factor, and an honest broker.”
Gramer’s goals and strategies
Gramer already has big dreams and clear goals for the IBE, though he’s only been on the job a month.
“Executives in the IBE are really busy people and they put in huge hours a week,’’ Gramer said. “They are counting on me for leadership.”
Here are his plans:
- Focus on achievable goals and mobilize IBE members to support those goals. “Our only motivation is what’s good for students,” he said.
- Create an alliance. “We need lots of friends.”
- Defend Idaho Core Standards (commonly known as Common Core). “This is our most important priority at this time.”
- He intends to support the recommendations from the governor’s task force, which will be unveiled at the end of the summer.
- Increase reading proficiency in K-4 students.
- Improve early childhood education. “I would support full-day, voluntary kindergarten. Literacy and pre-school are hallmark issues.”
- Sponsor an innovation award for teachers, policymakers and others.
Other issues in education
Lack of funding is a recurring concern in the education community; Idaho ranks No. 50 in per-pupil spending. Gramer says Idaho should “invest” in education, but funding is only part of the path toward better outcomes.
“If we can develop a common vision for creating an education system that sets a new standard for rural state education, then I’m confident the financial questions will get a thorough and open-minded hearing,” he said.
He and the IBE support using data to find solutions, “not to punish, but to shed light.”
“There is a lack of trust among stakeholders: educators, parents and policymakers,” Gramer said. “We can play a huge role in changing the culture.”
The president of Idaho’s teachers’ union says she welcomes a more robust business presence in the conversation.
“Many of the IBE’s philosophies are in line with those of the IEA, including the importance of parents, teachers and communities in the educational process,” said Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association. “We look forward to working with the IBE for the benefit of children and teachers throughout Idaho.”
Gramer’s long-term dream is that Idaho becomes the best in the country at educating kids, especially in rural communities. Idaho’s scale — a population of 1.5 million and public school enrollment of 275,000 — is to its advantage.
“We can get our arms around this issue,” Gramer said. “All we need is the stakeholders to come together, trust each other, find common ground and have the will to do great things in education.”
About Idaho Business for Education
IBE was organized in 2003 and incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)3 in 2005, under the name Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, or IBCEE.
On its website, IBE’s spells out its goal: By 2020, 60 percent of Idaho’s 25-34 year olds will have a degree or certificate they use in the workplace.
Lokken said: “The businesses of Idaho provide the jobs and pay the taxes that are vital to the future of Idaho as a great place to live, to raise a family, and to support the quality of life we all want access to. We are not educators, and we have no illusions that we know how to operate a school or micromanage a teacher or administrator.
“But we are the employers of the state, and that gives us a unique vantage point into how well the current system is producting young citizens ready for the work force.
“Our plan is to provide some clarity, context, and urgency to the discussion about how our future education system should work and the types of graduates we need.”