November 11, 2012

Educators hope Ritz will change DOE culture

But local change might not amount to much, supers say.

by Sarah Einselen

LOGANSPORT — Greg Dominick, a longtime Landis fourth-grade teacher, worked hard to get Glenda Ritz elected to the office of Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

He encouraged his Facebook friends — more than 2,000 people — to vote for Ritz, and spoke to friends and family on both sides of the political aisle on her behalf. He even stood outside the polls for several hours Tuesday morning to talk about Ritz to undecided voters and estimates he probably added at least 10 votes to her tally from those efforts.

And now that Ritz has been elected, he’s hoping the Republican governor-elect and soon-to-be supermajority in the legislative chambers will get the message: “We want to take another look at what we’re doing.”

“Teachers aren’t necessarily asking for things to be rolled back,” said Dominick, who has taught for 32 years in Logansport schools.

What got his goat, and that of thousands of teachers across the state, was the manner in which reforms were implemented.

“Tony Bennett did not involve any teachers in any of these processes,” Dominick said. “Very autocratic, very arrogant.

“A lot of it just came down to being respected and being heard,” he added.

Educators in Cass County and the surrounding area differed on how much influence Ritz was likely to have in the face of a Republican governor-elect and legislative supermajority intending to proceed with existing reform plans. Some were even taken aback that Ritz won the election.

“I was stunned,” said John Bevan, superintendent of Southeastern School Corporation. “I didn’t think she had a chance.”

But though she might not have much say over reforms written into Indiana Code, she can do one major thing to help schools, Bevan said.

“I think that if she simply turns the Department of Education into a situation where they no longer are hostile to us, that will be a huge improvement all by itself,” he explained. “It isn’t the education reforms that were the issue. It’s the way they were implemented.”

Caston superintendent Dan Foster agreed.

“I haven’t necessarily disagreed with a lot of things Dr. Bennett was trying to do,” Foster said. “I think the manner in which that was communicated and the directives given was the obstacle.”

Ritz’s victory took Pioneer superintendent David Bess by surprise, too.

“To be honest, I don’t see a lot of things changing because things are in law and the people that made those laws are still there,” he said.

But the “bully pulpit” that Ritz will have come January should give her an opportunity to convey “a clear message and direction,” said Carroll superintendent Chris Lagoni.

“She is clearly smart enough to know change will require some bipartisan work,” he said.

On the other hand, Delphi superintendent Ralph Walker had reservations about Ritz’s qualifications.

“I am concerned about her lack of administrative experience and knowledge of the responsibilities ahead of her,” Walker said. “I do not see much, if anything, changing, because the Republicans are in charge of both houses and the governor’s seat.”

Local educators said while accountability and student improvement are indeed what they want, the rapidity with which reforms have been implemented — without significant input from educators, they added — overburdened local school corporations that were already struggling with budget cuts.

More thought and time should be put into reforms, they said, so schools can implement them gradually.

“We need to be held accountable. We want to be held accountable,” noted Michele Starkey, superintendent of Logansport Community School Corporation. “But Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

• Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at or 574-732-5151.