TERRE HAUTE —
Some describe Glenda Ritz’ election victory over Tony Bennett as a “stunning upset” in the race for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“I wasn’t surprised. I’ve told my staff for weeks that when I went out around the state, the energy was just exciting,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I knew our base was really, really strong. I was confident the whole time. There was an amazing grassroots effort.”
With 99 percent of precincts counted statewide, Ritz had 1,313,914 votes, or 53 percent, to Bennett’s 1,181,154, or 47 percent, according to the Associated Press.
Ritz, a public school teacher and union activist who switched political parties to take on Bennett, will be the first Democrat to hold the state superintendent’s office since the early 1970s.
She believes voters sent out a couple of clear messages, and one of those is that “this position [state superintendent] should be elected. The issue of education is too important for people not to have a vote.”
She also views it as a nonpartisan referendum on education. In Indiana, she ranked third behind Mitt Romney and Greg Zoeller in the number of votes cast.
Ritz believes voters were pretty clear in that they want “a new direction for education in Indiana.” Educators want to see more time on education and less time on testing, while voters in general want to see public dollars going to public schools, she said.
Voters also “want to see a positive approach to support the school system,” she said. She plans to re-organize the Department of Education and implement an outreach coordinator program so that school superintendents “know who to contact” when they have problems or issues.
First, she’ll need to look at the DOE budget and current setup to determine how many of those outreach coordinators she can have.
Indiana school districts “have vast and unique needs,” and she wants to be sure the department has enough outreach coordinators to help districts assess their strengths and challenges and then provide districts with the support they need, she said. Those coordinators would be accessible and have regular communication with districts.
Ritz also plans to have, and attend, regional summits throughout the state to open the lines of communication and receive feedback from school districts. “They’ll see me a lot,” she said.
She remains undaunted by the fact that she’ll be working with a Republican-dominated legislature and Republican governor who support Bennett’s education reforms.
She believes they can find “common ground” on an education agenda for the next four years. She wants to focus on the classroom, adequate funding for public schools and equalizing opportunities for kids around the state. “I think those are common goals,” she said.
Her intent is not to reverse legislation that’s been enacted. Her goal is quality education in the classroom, “and if it requires some modification to [state] board policy language or tweaking of legislative language, that’s what I’ll do,” Ritz said.
She has experience dealing with the legislature, she said. Over the last few years, she’s testified several times before the senate and house education committees on education issues.
Ritz said she didn’t run for the state superintendent post to be involved in politics. “I knew what we were doing with children in the classroom was not headed in the right direction,” she said. Teachers “were being relegated to teaching to the test.”
As Indiana’s new state superintendent, she hopes to change that.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.