INDIANAPOLIS — Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated Republican Tony Bennett in an upset for the office of superintendent of public instruction last week.
The teacher and librarian at Crooked Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis did it by bringing together educators, parents and others frustrated by some of the big changes Bennett has advocated and made in state K-12 school policies.
But Ritz — talking to TheStatehouseFile.com by phone while she was on a trip to Washington, D.C. — said it’s a misperception that she simply wants to “roll things back.”
“I actually want to move things forward,” she said. “I want to work with legislators to be sure that we’re going to have the best opportunities for the kids in our public schools.”
Here’s what else Ritz had to say about how she views her role as superintendent, what she thinks about ISTEP testing and how she was able to defeat Bennett.
Question: How would your administration be different than Tony Bennett’s?
Answer: Are you talking about philosophically?
Q: Yes, philosophically.
A: I’m very inclusive. Making sure I’ve got input from a variety of constituencies so that we develop policy that is going to make sure kids across Indiana will have, I guess I would say, the opportunities that they need to graduate from high school, to be successful.
So, that could be anywhere from making sure we’re expanding our career tech opportunities for kids.
That might mean, on the other end of the continuum, making sure we’ve got some early childhood programs going on. That would mean more emphasis on reading K-12 and making sure that teachers and parents know the true performance levels of their students in the areas of reading and writing and math, instead of a pass-fail approach to testing that we’ve had.
So, I think voters and citizens and teachers and educators are going to see a different philosophy in working with others to have an educational policy that is from the bottom-up approach.
To add one more thing to that list: I’m going to reorganize the Department of Education to provide outreach coordinators throughout the state. School districts will know who their coordinator is and will be assessing the strengths and the challenges that need to be addressed.
We’ll be working with the community. We’re going to be talking to mayors and community people, businesses on how we can go about addressing challenges, then actually providing for those things that I had talked about, career and tech opportunities.
Q: When I was talking to different Republican leaders, including Gov.-elect Mike Pence and some members of the House, they said that they would continue on with the changes that Tony Bennett made, regardless of your win. What would you say to that?
A: Well, I guess I would say that I’m going to have an education agenda. I think that everybody will know that I’m a well-respected educator and that any changes that I make, I will be talking from the viewpoint of students in the classroom.
So, I’m not really out to repeal a lot of things that are in place in the legislature. I want to implement and enact pieces of law in a very inclusive manner when making policy.
I think it might be a misconception that I want to roll things back. I actually want to move things forward, and I want to work with legislators to be sure that we’re going to have the best opportunities for the kids in our public schools.
And I’m devoted to making sure that our public schools are going to succeed. And I think the reorganization of the Department of Education will be my first step in doing that.
Q: Are there changes that were made to the Department of Education under Tony Bennett’s term that you support?
A: I would say that there are pieces in the actual law that I support. I don’t necessarily support all of the policy that’s developed.
So, I’ll want to be working with the policy and the implementation, which is the purview of the superintendent of public instruction on how things are implemented. I’ll probably do the most important pieces right away.
I am going to have to have conversations with the U.S. Department of Education regarding a waiver that we have … and I may see that we need to head in a different direction. So, I’ll be having some dialogue. I’m very familiar with what’s involved, what’s the policy and what’s the purview. So, I intend to work with whomever I need to work with to bring changes that might need to be made so we can move forward on issues I feel need to advance.
For instance, in law, we have a reading curriculum that focuses on K-3 and what should be included in a strong reading program.
And, as is suggested there, as a last resort, we might look at retention.
So, I see that law as having no problems, really. I can work within that law for the implementation of it.
So when Dr. Bennett looked at that law, he put in place IREAD-3, a pass-fail test — and retention for students who don’t pass the test. And it mandated how to go about teaching reading. I see myself implementing the law much differently — not with the parameters and the IREAD-3 approach that Dr. Bennett put in place, but doing it in an entirely different manner.
That’s one example. So I won’t be asking legislators to repeal that law. I’ll be working within that law to develop new policy.
Q: Where do you stand on standardized tests and the evaluation of teachers based in part on their results?
A: ISTEP is a pass-fail test, and I clearly ran on a platform of growth measure tests, instead of pass-fail, where we really know the levels of something in our students and we know the levels of performance in writing.
The pass-fail assessment does not give teachers, nor parents, nor students the information about how they truly performed. It just shows if they passed or failed the test.
So I would like to replace that system with a real growth model, with a true growth model assessment.
Once we get that done, then we can talk about how that plays into teacher accountability and school accountability. I can’t really tell you what that looks like because there are a lot of people we need to talk to and come to the table to develop that.
But I can tell you that it starts with a different student assessment model.
Tim Grimes is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.