Vail Daily column: Aspiring toward greatness

Jason E. Glass
Valley Voices

The 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships have finally arrived! For the next two weeks, Eagle County welcomes visitors from across the globe to our mountains, showcasing our beautiful community and giving our guests a glimpse into the wonderful quality of life our valley affords.

The skiing greatness on display during the championship is symbolic and inspirational on many levels. It will show us in real terms what is possible when an athlete displays the highest level of commitment, receives superior coaching and training, and believes with die-hard determination in their dreams. We will also experience up close how an athlete fights their way back to greatness from seemingly insurmountable physical setbacks.

I’ve been thinking about how these lessons translate to our vision as a school district. In 2013, when I returned to Eagle County Schools as superintendent, I spent my first three months on the job talking with staff, parents, students and community leaders about their aspirations for our schools and our kids.

Overwhelmingly, the message that came back was “world class.” In an educational sense, that means having a school system that competes with the best performing education systems on earth. This is a community with world class expectations about everything, including its schools.

To realize that goal, our schools have adopted a strategic plan that uses a business-borrowed approach called “international benchmarking,” which has us identify the practices we see in the world’s best education systems and then consider how those can be adapted to our context.

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The kind of consistent and sustained greatness we seek is not built on quick-fixes, half-efforts and silver-bullet approaches. Instead, it is built with a steady hand — focused on two major drivers of quality: teaching and learning.

The best performing global systems are focused on raising teacher quality through building up a professional model of teaching — which holds that education is a calling that requires commitment, specialized training, continuous coaching and mentoring, and a high level of knowledge. Teachers are respected and supported as professionals.

The world’s best education systems are also simultaneously focused on creating an environment of uniformly high standards and expectations for all students, while working to individualize (or tailor) instruction to fit with what every student needs. These systems don’t create a false dichotomy of high standards versus individualization. They recognize that both of these concepts are necessary in equal measure for educational greatness.

These global high performers are also systems that create multi-lingual graduates. The United States stands as one of the exceptions with our focus on English only instruction. By contrast, Singaporean students graduate knowing at least two languages. Finnish graduates learn three. These systems recognize the importance of language ability in our interconnected global economy. Graduates are better positioned for a future of economic prosperity, and most directly, to land good jobs regardless of where they choose to live.

If you attend any of the World Championship events (which I encourage you to do!), you may find yourself observing the training regimen, the technique and the strategy used by these world-class athletes. For sure, you will be impressed by the deep level of commitment and human spirit that it takes to compete at this world-class level.

This mirrors the approach we are taking in our community schools — benchmarking against the best and being committed to bring these international best practices to our students and teachers.

Our stated vision is bold: internationally competitive graduates. Our community demands this and our kids deserve that kind of future. I’m glad to have the World Championships in our community, showing us a benchmark for what greatness means and inspiring us to have both the courage and the drive to do the work to achieve it.

Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at

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