Get to Know Another Side of Roger Quarles, New Chief Deputy Superintendent

Dr. Roger Quarles has been hired as Chief Deputy Superintendent of the Idaho State Department of Education. As Chief Deputy, Quarles will oversee, supervise and support all educational programs at the Department including federal programs, assessment, school improvement and content areas.

EdSource sat down with Dr. Quarles to get to know this well-known Idaho educator in a different light.

Roger Quarles' Experience

  • 19 years of experience in education
  • Co-Director, Idaho Leads Project
  • Assistant Professor, Boise State University
  • Superintendent, Caldwell School District
  • Ph.D. and Ed. S. in educational leadership, M. Ed. In educational administration University of Idaho
You've earned degrees from the University of Idaho but worked for Boise State University. If they played each other today, which team would you root for?

Boise State. I did my undergraduate work at California State University, Chico. You're physical on campus, and you have this big, awesome presence of being part of a university of higher education. All my graduate work was done through the University of Idaho-Twin Falls or University of Idaho-Boise. I never spent a whole lot of time on the University of Idaho campus. The quality of my education was unbelievable, but having worked at Boise State and been on a university campus kind of makes you feel part of something meaningful and special. Besides that, Boise State would probably win.

Before working in education, you owned several pizza companies around town. First, what is your favorite kind of pizza? Second, what did you learn in the small business world that you applied to your career in education?

My favorite pizza in Idaho is Idaho Pizza Company pizza. It's thin crust and typically has a crunchy bottom. The sauce is about the right flavor. They use a good quality of cheese, and the toppings are always fresh. It's a fun environment.

The thing I learned most about being in business for myself is that my livelihood was dependent upon the value that the customer saw in coming to our place, buying our product, and coming back again and again. My livelihood relied on the customer's satisfaction. We could work hard on a whole variety of things, but if they wouldn't come back–or even come in the first time–then we were working really hard for nothing. It taught me about outcomes and expectations, return on investment, community involvement, customer satisfaction, adding value, and all the life lessons to have a good understanding around leadership.

The Idaho Leads Project has been a popular and successful project across the state. Why did you decide to leave that venture to join the State Department of Education?

The Idaho Leads Project was designed to build leadership capacity in school districts as the vehicle to embrace opportunities and reformation efforts in a meaningful way that made sense to their local communities. Here's what I realized: those efforts are great for the people who have the readiness to benefit, but what do we do for everyone else? Why can't we take that same mentality at the State Department? Our success is really dependent upon the success of our students and our classroom teachers and our building principals statewide. I thought I'd have a greater influence at that level.

I care about every kid in the state, and I think we've got the resources and the commitment. How do we pull all that together and make it happen for all kids? I want to be part of those conversations. I already feel really good about being here and the direction we're headed in in the stuff that we're talking about.

What has been the most surprising thing since coming to the Department?

The level of commitment and care in supporting districts and schools is evident in all the divisions.

You guys are fun, too. The people here are really fun. They care, and they're really fun.

What is your favorite part of the job, so far?

The people I've met so far. And the restaurant in the basement is pretty cool.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

I always thought I was going to be a professional basketball player, and then I realized I wasn't very good. I thought I was pretty good, until I went to college, and then there were a lot of people who were way better.

How would your former students describe you?

Caring. Honest. Hard working. Knowledgeable. Fun.

Who would you consider your greatest mentor? What lessons did that person teach you?

My dad. He taught me about moderation in work, fun, exercise, diet, and in life. It requires that balance in any effort to be excellent at anything. When you're out of balance, you're not really good at anything.

What motivates you in your work life?

I'm extremely competitive, and I don't like to be viewed as less than what we can be. I hate that Idaho is consistently ranked at the bottom of most measurements, metrics, and studies. I am hell-bent on having Idaho be the top academic state in the country in all the polls, so that's what motivates me to keep going.

What goals would you like to achieve for Idaho students while in this role?

I'd like to eliminate achievement gaps in subgroups. I'd like for all of us to realize it's really what we do, and not necessarily the things that kids come to school with or without. It's about how we adjust as the professional educator to meet the needs of all kids. Rather than placing blame on others, we accept the responsibility and actually do something about it. I know it's hard. I know it's a tough conversation.

I want people to move to Idaho to put their kids in our schools. I want businesses to move here because they know we've got a workforce that's unbelievable.

I know those are kind of high, lofty, altruistic goals, but I genuinely believe that it can happen.

What has been your biggest professional success/accomplishment been up until now?

I think that I can take thoughts and ideas and turn them into practice and realities, whether it's in the private sector or the public sector. There are planners, and there are doers. I'm a doer. I actually like to plan, but the implementation of those plans is the professional success.

Having an entrepreneurial spirit in a bureaucracy is another of my biggest professional successes.

You have a 10 minute speech to give at a high school, what is it about?

It'd be about showing up and engaging in learning. It'd be about it's cool to be smart.

As a former high school principal, one of the things we identified was the school wasn't a very welcoming environment for kids or for adults. How do you create an environment that breeds success in everything that you do? It's really a reflection of what you fill it up with–the people that you fill it up with.

What's your story? How are you developing your story? Is it one that's worth telling? Is it one worth listening to?

Tell us about your family.

I'm married to Trish. We're a Brady Bunch mixed family. She had two children, and I had two children.

My wife is in the insurance and finance business, and has been for 25 years. She's really good at it.

My daughter, Brett, is 25. She is a graduate student in Southern California working on an advanced art degree. Anthony is 24. He lives in Sun Valley, and he is the father of my beautiful granddaughter. Joe is an alum of Boise State, and he's a construction management guy who lives in Seattle. Cole is 21, and he is a senior at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. He's an international business guy and a football player. The boys were all athletic.

My favorite thing to do is to be with my family. My favorite time is to be with my kids, my granddaughter, and my dog, Bear.

What do you like to do for recreation? How do you spend your free time?

I go play tennis. I like being outside. I love to fish, hunt, and spend time in the outdoors. Tennis is my one thing I do consistently that I'm kind of still competitive at physically at 51.5 years old.

What was the last book you read?

Toughness by Jay Bilas, a former basketball player. Most of the books I read are professionally-related, non-fiction, research. I love reading books around qualitative and quantitative research about improving educational systems. I know that's kind of weird.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?

Australia or New Zealand. Somewhere down on one of those big islands.

I'd really like to explore all of America. I just think there are incredible resources and unbelievable things here.

One of my favorite places to go is Costa Rica, because the people are so friendly and so minimalistic in the way they live. I love Costa Rica.

What is the #1 most played song on your iPod?

"My Kinda Party" and "Tattoos on this Town" by Jason Aldean. I love country western music–anything that has to do with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Jason Aldean, Brooks and Dunn. I'm a country western music fan.

What is one of your favorite quotes?

"You can be right or in a relationship."
"Focus on what's going right."
"Pride and profit don't mix."
"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." – Mark Twain

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

I have mannerisms like Will Ferrell. My daughter's girlfriends call me Papa Burgundy, like Ron Burgundy from Anchorman.