Tom Luna to take job with nonprofit

When State Superintendent Tom Luna leaves office in 2015, he will join a nonprofit education vendor.

Luna will join Project Lead The Way, an Indianapolis-based organization providing programs and teacher training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the so-called “STEM” fields. Luna will be the nonprofit’s vice president of policy, advocacy and research.

“He was recruited to apply and after a full interview process, was selected over several other candidates,” said PLTW spokesperson Jennifer Cahill.

Luna will oversee four regional directors, as well as a team of policy analysts and researchers. His job will be full-time and he’ll be based in Idaho but with a lot of travel involved, Cahill said.

Over the course of several weeks, Luna was recruited by Project Lead the Way CEO Vince Bertram, which gave him the chance refine the job description and duties, Luna said in an interview late Tuesday afternoon. Last week, Luna received a signed offer letter.

The new job met all of Luna’s criteria — the ability to make an impact on student achievement, remain in Idaho with his family and work for a nonprofit.

“It really is a blank slate with a generous annual budget to put together a team of researchers, policymakers and regional representatives to work to identify obstacles to STEM education programs and teaching happening in more and more schools,” Luna said.

Project Lead the Way describes itself as the nation’s leading provider of K-12 STEM programs and teacher training — saying it delivers STEM programs to more than 6,000 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Schools pay a participation fee that includes software, tech support and teacher training. Yearly fees range from $750 to $3,000 per school. PLTW also has corporate sponsors.

“PLTW schools can be found in rural, urban and suburban districts; across all income levels; as well as in public, private, and charter schools,” the organization says on its website.

In Idaho, PLTW’s curriculum is offered in the Boise, Nampa, West Ada, Kuna, Caldwell and Fremont school districts. Idaho’s Division of Professional-Technical Education website encourages teachers to offer the nonprofit’s programs.

“PLTW partners with middle schools and high schools to provide a rigorous, relevant STEM education,” the division says on its website. “Through an engaging, hands-on curriculum, PLTW encourages the development of problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creative and innovative reasoning, and a love of learning.”

Luna’s pending job will not pose any conflict-of-interest issues during his final 4 1/2 months in office, spokesman Brady Moore said Tuesday.

“Currently the (State Department of Education) does not oversee any PLTW grants, nor are there any SDE contracts with the organization,” Moore said.

In a state news release Tuesday, Luna said little about his next job, and spoke more about unfinished business in his elected position. “My focus and priority today continues to be the children of Idaho. There are several major initiatives that need continued attention such as teacher quality and pay through a new tiered system of licensure and a well-funded career ladder, technology implementation to increase access throughout Idaho, dual credit opportunities for all high school students and ensuring students are reading proficiently by the time they exit third grade.”

Luna is completing his second term as superintendent. In late January, he surprised many Idaho political observers by announcing that he would not seek re-election. This created a wide-open Republican primary for the superintendent’s position — a nomination captured by Mountain Home school administrator Sherri Ybarra. She will face Democrat Jana Jones, a former deputy state superintendent, in the Nov. 4 general election.

Since Luna’s announcement, several key members of his staff have left the Education Department, and Idaho, for other positions. That list includes Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Hancock, testing chief TJ Bliss and spokeswoman Melissa McGrath Mandato.