Richard Crandall, WDE Director
CHEYENNE - Not many in Wyoming know much about the new Wyoming Department of Education Director, Richard Crandall.
But one thing is clear -- he has some sort of allergy to sitting still. He's a walking, talking monument to the practice of multi-tasking. And so it is that Crandall uses a bluetooth device and a drive from Phoenix to Salt Lake City for an interview introducing himself to Wyoming educational stakeholders.
This trip comes on the heels of scheduled stops in Kansas City, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Milwaukee over the next two weeks.
"I will travel the country on a plane every other day for the next two weeks attending education conferences," Crandall said. "It all starts Sunday when I fly to Kansas City."
Crandall will take the reins of the Wyoming Department of Education on August 1.
He's anxious to join the WDE after a career spent in accounting, and education-focused public service. That includes time in school nutritional services, the Mesa (Ariz.) School Board of Education, and the Arizona Legislature. He has repeatedly called running the WDE a "dream job," and said Wyoming is the right fit for this new chapter in his career because of the pieces already in place in Wyoming.
"The Legislature, the Governor, and the State Board are all on the same page with where they want to go with education," Crandall said. "The number of states that have all three of those groups on the same page can be counted on one hand.
"Combine that with the resources available here and the high number of Wyoming teachers who are board certified and you can see all the pieces are there."
A Convergence of Family and Business
Crandall spent the first 10 years of his life in Ojai (Calif.) before moving to Arizona with his family. His father taught in the state prison system and helped his clients attain their graduate equivalency diplomas (GED), while Crandall's mother built one of the top long-term care consulting dietician companies in the country.
After high school, Crandall served a two-year mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Detroit before attending Brigham Young University (BYU), where he earned a Masters degree in Accounting. From there, it was three years with the accounting firm, Arthur Andersen.
"I didn't enjoy being an auditor," Crandall said. "I was doing health care audits at the time."
Crandall went back to school, attending Notre Dame where he received his Masters of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship where he tied for first in his class and bought into the family business -- Crandall Corporate Dietitians. In 2001, Crandall was asked by the Oregon State Department of Education to bid on the audit of its school menus for the US Department of Agriculture.
"We won the bid and realized there was a possibility for a business that could assist state departments of education with their child nutritional menu audits, so we entered the Notre Dame Business Plan Competition and won a $250,000 prize to start the company."
The company, CN Resource now has contracts nationwide with state education departments to audit child nutrition in schools. Crandall has said he will maintain a seat on the board but have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the company.
"The business has done well and it's a lot of fun, but my true passion is education," Crandall said.
A Career in Public Service
While Crandall has made a name for himself in the Arizona Legislature, he said it was participating on a local school board that may have had as much to do with his arrival in Cheyenne as anything. Crandall joined the Mesa Public Schools Board of Education 10 years ago
"Ten years ago I got elected to the Mesa School Board," Crandall said. "It was the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in education and it was really non-political. You didn't know what party anyone was. But we had a big district -- 73,000 students.
"Every meeting was a big rush about what can we do better? What are we doing well?"
During his time on the school board, Crandall said he figured out quickly that the real policy and financial decisions are made by those in the Legislature, which led to his election to the State House in 2007.
Crandall was known as a member of the Arizona Legislature where he was known as someone with an eye on education. He served as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives from 2007-10, and for two years (2009-10) he was the House Education Committee Chair. He also sat on the House Appropriations Committee for three years.
In 2011, he was elected to the Arizona State Senate and was appointed to chair the Senate Education Committee. While in the Arizona Legislature, he sat on the Digital Learning Council, chaired by Jeb Bush; Governor Jan Brewer's Education Data Governance Task Force; the Task Force on Educator Effectiveness and co-chaired the Task Force on School Dropout Prevention and Recovery.
Over the past two sessions, the make-up of the Arizona State Legislature began to bother Crandall and he said factions within his own party made sessions grueling.
"It became tough to do any real big policy things," he said. "It feels like the last year and a half, I spent the majority of the time voting 'no,' on bad legislation. At the end of the session you look back and say, "What did I do to move the needle?", and literally, you would say nothing.
"It was at that point I decided to retire from the Senate this summer and pursue my dream job as a state school chief."
Crandall said he was proud of some of the wins he felt in education policy in Arizona, from red tape reduction to changing regulations around digital learning and eliminating seat-time requirements.
"The number one thing I have learned is that lawmakers want to feel like they are making a difference," Crandall said. "They aren't just spending their time in Cheyenne or Phoenix and just doing busy work. They want to know that they have made a difference. That can be in healthcare or transportation, but especially in education."
What Arizona Does Well and How it Relates to Wyoming
Arizona is not Wyoming and vice versa. Crandall said he's well aware and doesn't expect to impart Arizona programs in Wyoming. He did add that he's appreciative of the perspective Arizona education has offered him on his way to the WDE's offices on the second floor of the Hathaway Building.
He said Arizona's education system excelled at offering its students a school of choice, which has been done for over 20 years. While Crandall said offering choices such as districts, charters and parochial schools are key in education, he added that it isn't the only thing that leads to success.
Crandall said he's also proud of Arizona's competency-based diploma policy, an idea he hopes to explore with Wyoming Legislators later this year.
"The thinking is, you take four years of high school and four of college and compress that into five, six or seven years depending on the competency of the individual and his/her own pace," Crandall said.
Crandall said he plans to do as much exploring of best practices as he can in partnership with teachers and administrators in Wyoming.
"When I was in Arizona, one of the things I was known for was inviting superintendents to leave the state with me," Crandall said. "It was like, 'Hey guys there are some great schools in Atlanta. Come with me for a day and let's check out what they are doing and what we can learn from it.'"
Importance of Educators
Crandall said among his biggest beliefs in education is the need for a customized education for each student. He said that belief means teachers will take an even larger role in the classroom.
"The teacher matches up the content and curriculum with the student's needs and will use technology to assist them," Crandall said. "Technology is not the end-all, it is a great teacher who uses technology to fill in the gaps. We need to make sure we have the best and brightest in the classroom and give them the tools they need and the professional development they are asking for."
Crandall said he is a big fan of high standards for Wyoming students and he has been a part of the Common Core State Standards movement for the last six years.
"There are fantastic opportunities across the country and it is easier when you can see it already in practice, and people need to be exposed to best practices."
What Comes Next
The next step for Crandall, a father of seven, is to get his feet on the ground in Wyoming, get moved and then get back on the road. He said he plans to take a majority of his first couple of months in the Cowboy State on the road listening to educational stakeholders. He said he has already talked to four district superintendents of Wyoming schools and looks forward to listening to others.
"The most critical piece here is how to approach everyone," Crandall said. "I bring a listening ear and someone who will take action. I am excited to listen to those superintendents and teachers and parents and school board members and ask what is important to you? Why is it important to you? What is your dream for education in your community going forward and how can we help you get there?
"I want to gain an understanding for what legislators, teachers, school board members and other stakeholders want to accomplish and meet the needs of the culture in Wyoming."