Nebraska Commissioner of Education Roger Breed retired at the end of June after serving as the state’s top education official since 2009. During that time he demonstrated capable, sure-handed leadership that benefited Nebraska’s public schools tremendously.
Breed was tapped for the commissioner spot after serving as superintendent of the Elkhorn school system. Working with the State Board of Education and overseeing a major state agency, he tackled complex and challenging tasks.
During his time as commissioner, Nebraska switched to statewide tests in reading, math and science amid pushback from critics and some districts. A new state accountability system was created for schools. Breed and the state Department of Education worked with the court system to address excessive absenteeism in public schools.
Nebraska leaders interviewed by The World-Herald point to impressive qualities Breed has demonstrated — qualities the State Board of Education no doubt will be looking for as it decides on Breed’s successor:
>> Breadth of experience and knowledge. “He’s been tested at every level, and that’s why he knows the issues so well,” Gov. Dave Heineman says. “His advice has always been exceptional.”
Breed began his 42-year career in education as a social studies teacher in Lincoln and served two years as superintendent in Axtell, Neb. During the 17 years (1991-2008) he was superintendent of the Elkhorn Public Schools, the district’s student population rose from 1,700 students to 4,800. In 2007, the Nebraska Council of School Administrators named him Nebraska Superintendent of the Year.
School needs across the state are quite varied, and Breed has shown an important understanding of and appreciation for that complexity, says State Sen. Kate Sullivan, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Education Committee.
“He’s brought a common-sense statewide perspective to educational issues,” she said.
Breed also understands how K-12 education connects with higher education in Nebraska, Heineman said.
>> Diplomatic skill, administrative ability. State Sen. Jim Scheer, vice chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, is a past president of the State Board of Education, where he worked extensively with Breed.
“He stands out for his ability to bring people to consensus,” Scheer told The World-Herald. “I was amazed at how quickly he built relations with the Governor’s Office and the Legislature when he first came aboard.” Even as Breed was firm in pressing for high academic standards, Scheer said, he stood out for the way he listened to everyone’s views and took them into consideration.
Breed’s diplomatic skill and managerial ability was crucial, Scheer said, in helping the state Department of Education carry out the complex changes as Nebraska shifted from district-based testing to standardized statewide tests.
Says Heineman: “Even if you disagree with Dr. Breed, he’ll respect your viewpoint. He wants to work with everyone.”
>> Accessibility. Rather than stay cooped up in Lincoln, Breed made a point to get out across the state and meet with local school leaders.
Breed showed “an unwavering commitment to getting out and visiting the districts,” Scheer said.
“He and I probably visited more schools than any governor and education commissioner in the country,” says Heineman. One of Breed’s main interests was discussing ways to boost parental involvement, the governor said.
Kevin Riley, superintendent of the Gretna Public Schools, says Breed stood out in impressive ways as commissioner: his wisdom in understanding education issues and finding practical solutions, and his accessibility to Nebraska school leaders.
“His accessibility has been remarkable,” Riley says. “He was always quick to respond. Typically I could get him almost every single time I called him, and he would call back promptly if he couldn’t take the call.”
These are the qualities of a top-flight education leader. It’s good to see that the stellar example set by Roger Breed is widely recognized and much appreciated. It’s a record of admirable accomplishment.