Jaime Sowers of BlazerWorks: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational System

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“Go to bed leaving the world a better place than you found it this morning.” If I can have a positive impact on at least one person in my professional network daily, I’m moving the needle in education.

As a part of our interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Jaime Sowers, BlazerWorks.

Jaime is nearing the 20-year mark in education, spending time as a teacher, coordinator, and principal prior to becoming the Clinical Advisory Team Director at BlazerWorks. He earned his doctorate in innovation and leadership in 2018 from Wilmington University in Delaware and spent three years as the special education director for Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico. He is an active member of the Council of Administrators of Special Education, the Council of Exceptional Children, and currently sits on two volunteer school boards.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?

When I was 19 years old I got a summer job working at a camp with children with disabilities and fell in love with the work. I changed my undergrad major to behavioral science after starting with children’s mental health and then went back to school to get my Master’s in Special Education.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During the first five years of my career, I taught at an alternative high school that was a step-down facility from jail. One morning, a student approached me and asked if we could talk privately. We go back into the corner of my office, and he explains he is in possession of drugs on the school premise.

I said, “Okay, thanks for trusting me. What’s going on?” He said, “If I don’t get caught with this, they’re gonna shoot me. I don’t know how to sell it, and I owe people a lot of money. My only way out is if I get caught and get arrested.” Apparently, he had promised these drug lords he would sell the drugs to get out of debt, and now he was willing to go to prison because it was the lesser of two evils. Of course, I had to call the police, and they came and took him away to jail.

Talk about an eye-opening experience. It gave me perspective on how a large percentage of our country lives and operates every day — and the struggles that so many young people face. I realized that public education is a key opportunity to make a positive impact on these kids’ lives. I learned that I was far more instrumental and valued in their eyes than I had ever perceived, and I was really looked at as a father figure for most of these kids who didn’t have another male role model in their lives.

I also learned that it’s okay to be vulnerable in a place of education because trust is so important — and that’s how you build trust with your students. And I think my other students learned they didn’t have to fear people who were in a position of authority. Not everyone in a position of authority was out to hurt them, and it’s okay to ask for help.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m working on building out a nationwide, multidisciplinary team of special educators who can provide clinical expertise and support to school districts as needed.

This Clinical Special Education Advisory Team is a growing cohort of special education teachers, school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and other professionals who listen to the day-to-day needs and challenges of school-based professionals and offer clinical-level support. The Advisory Team’s expertise is offered at no additional cost to school districts that partner with BlazerWorks.

We expect this value-added service will help elevate special education programs nationwide and empower the professionals who deliver special education services to students. With the Clinical Special Education Advisory Team, these people know they’ve got the full support of experienced professionals who are in their corner, championing them to continue doing this hard work and improving their craft.

Our hope is that they’ll pass on that knowledge and empowerment to others in turn, and the project’s sphere of influence grows exponentially. We also hope that other organizations follow our lead and put similar structures in place, so there are opportunities for every educator in every state to get the support they need to be the best they can be for their students.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority in the education field?

I’ve been afforded the opportunity over my 20-year career to study with some great mentors in all fields of education. Additionally, my current position enables me to interact and collaborate with educators across the United States and serve as a conduit, bringing innovative ideas to the table.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

There are pockets of success across the country, but we are losing ground at a rapid pace to other developed nations that have different attitudes about education.

One way we’re falling behind is in preparing our students for the types of careers they’re likely to encounter in the future. Technology is quickly transforming nearly every industry. I believe I just saw that McDonald’s has opened a fully automated store. Human-powered checkout lines are being replaced by self-checkout lines, and every single car manufacturer now has some degree of automation in its cars.

Like it or hate it, this is the future our students are inheriting — and they need to be learning skills that will allow them to thrive in this new economy. This includes 21st-century skills such as problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as STEM-based skills such as data analysis and coding. The style of education that students receive in other countries is better equipping them for emerging careers, such as designing and interacting with the automated systems of the future.

Here in the United States, the artificially intelligent chatbot ChatGPT has dominated the news in recent months. But most of these stories are of the “sky is falling” variety. Rather than teach students how to leverage ChatGPT as a powerful tool for learning and productivity, schools are banning its use. These tools aren’t going away. We need to teach students how to use them responsibly as they both shape and adapt to the future.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

  • The movement toward inclusive education is giving students with disabilities more opportunities for success. Students with special needs who learn in general education classrooms learn from peer models, make a wider circle of friends, and develop a positive self-image. Research shows that special education students who learn in inclusive classrooms are absent less often, develop stronger reading and math skills, and are more likely to be employed and pursue education beyond high school.
  • Access to postsecondary education has steadily improved over the last 50 years — and more than 40% of the students entering college today are first-generation college students.
  • Universal access to pre-K programming is on the rise. In November, New Mexico became the latest state to offer universal preschool to children. As of 2021, 16 states had at least 45% of four-year-olds enrolled in preschool programs, the National Institute of Early Education Research reported.
  • The early college movement is giving more students the ability to earn college credit at no charge to their families while they’re still in high school. A study published by the American Institutes for Research concluded that students who took part in early college programs were more likely than their peers to graduate, enroll in college, and earn a degree.
  • Generally, everybody’s heart is in the right place. I’ve experienced cabinet-level district members showing their vulnerability to ask questions and identify they don’t know everything about special education, but they are willing to learn.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

  • Implement early reading initiatives to ensure students are reading effectively at a young age.
  • Reconsider funding to meet current needs for staffing and program implementation and leveling educator pay to make it competitive with other industries.
  • Continue adding more STEM programming to all schools.
  • Revisit transition planning and postsecondary preparation programming to match learners with current and future workforce needs.
  • Make a concerted effort to increase the pipeline of young adults entering the education profession.

These are all critical to creating an education system that will prepare learners for the global workforce of today and tomorrow. Reading is the gateway to learning and the ability to succeed. With technology at the forefront of the new global economy, we must have programming and staff in place to prepare our students to compete in the global marketplace. Without an arsenal of qualified educators, our students simply cannot thrive and advance.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure, what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

(1) Implement a uniform system of teacher licensure and retirement for all 50 states. This would make portability between states much simpler, allowing educators to move easily from one state to another. Such a system would better serve the needs of educators who want to relocate. It would also empower policy makers and K-12 leaders to address local staffing shortages more effectively.

(2) Make universal preschool, kindergarten, and early literacy programs mandatory in all 50 states. It’s no secret that these programs provide the early foundation that children need for success in school and in life. Access to these services should be free for all families; no child should be denied the right to participate in pre-kindergarten instruction because of their family’s ability to pay.

(3) Institute a nationwide entry-level teaching salary that is comparable to other industries requiring an advanced degree. Commission a study that examines the top 20 careers for people with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Determine an average starting salary for these careers, and establish this as a national minimum salary for beginning teachers in an effort to attract more people into the field of education.

(4) Require all schools in all 50 states, including elementary schools, to have a robust STEM presence and programming, with equity of access for all learners — regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, and other factors. A fully accessible STEM curriculum for all students everywhere would help level the playing field for students from disadvantaged neighborhoods, giving them opportunities to engage in STEM learning and exposure to STEM careers that they don’t have currently. This would also help increase the national STEM pipeline and prepare more students for success in an increasingly innovation-driven economy.

(5) Institute a support network for all educators, so they receive the coaching, mentoring, and support they need to thrive in their profession. Many veteran educators have left the profession in the last few years owing to factors such as burnout during the pandemic. Even though they have left the profession, they haven’t lost their passion for teaching and for making a difference. We can leverage their passion and their expertise by recruiting them to serve as mentors and advisors for their colleagues who are still in the classroom.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Go to bed leaving the world a better place than you found it this morning.” If I can have a positive impact on at least one person in my professional network daily, I’m moving the needle in education.

When I started my career as a teacher, I could go to bed at night knowing that I made a positive impact on at least one student every day. As I got into school and district leadership, my goal was empowering my staff with the tools they needed to do their job better, and they in turn could make a better impact on students.

Now, I couldn’t be more happy to join an organization whose mission statement is, “We make lives better for those who make lives better.” When I work with a special education director and I’m able to give them some insight or strategies to use with their staff, my hope is that I’ve been able to impact multiple people that day.

That’s what really charges me about the work I’m doing now. I’m still driven by the same principles, but I’ve been given a platform where my sphere of influence is much larger than it’s ever been in my career — and I’m very grateful for that.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!

Lebron James — what he has done for his home state of Ohio regarding education access is tremendous. Furthermore, his philanthropic work on behalf of children and upward mobility is simply amazing.

How can our readers further follow your work online?


Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Jaime Sowers of BlazerWorks: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational System was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.