Local educators say Bennett shut them out

2012-11-07T18:00:00Z 2012-11-07T20:46:32Z Local educators say Bennett shut them outBy Carmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Some local educators contend the state's top educator was defeated at the polls not because of the education reform he became famous for but because he didn't include educators in the process.

Educators across the state used their political muscle to vote Tony Bennett out as Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction on Tuesday. Voters elected Glenda Ritz, a media specialist at the Washington Township school district in Indianapolis.

Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux said Bennett's loss is mostly a comment about leadership.

Lux said "good leadership" doesn't disenfranchise the people who are being led. "I think there was a sense that time after time when people were given opportunity for public testimony, and education groups presented their opinion, they were not listened to. There was no true involvement from the people who were being affected by the decisions related to education reform," Lux said.

Lux said there was a "lack of empathy" for the challenges educators face. "Education groups would have accepted education reform as long as they feel part of the process. I believe that's a lesson for all leaders," Lux said.

"From day one, his strategy was to blame teachers for failing schools in order to implement his agenda," said Darren Clauss, a teacher at Taft Middle School in Crown Point. "He was a poor listener and he wasn't collaborative. Thirty people testified against his A-F accountability model versus virtually no one speaking in favor of his plan. He still implemented it."

Clauss said Ritz will have an opportunity to "roll back" the nonlegislative components of Bennett's agenda, such as the A-F model and testing changes in the pipeline.

The posting of the A-F grade system just before the election is something that sent people to the polls, said George Letz, superintendent of MSD of Boone Township. "That angered some educators," he said.

Munster Teachers Association President Ryan Ridgley said too often teachers and school systems had been slammed by Bennett and deemed failing or unwilling to put children first. Ridgley acknowledged that some schools are not performing but the reasons are not as simple as Bennett would have had the public believe.

"Only when all stakeholders have a voice will you see change happen. Forced mandates without proven track records are not the way to go, and that is what Dr. Bennett did," Ridgley said.

Though there were plenty of complaints about Bennett's education overhaul, Valparaiso Superintendent Mike Berta said there also was some good. He said there was a "heightened level of accountability in teaching and learning." Berta said the message communicated over Bennett's four-year tenure is that teachers were opposed to accountability as well, but that "is not true," he said.

Ritz has said she intends to substitute another system for the complicated school grading system. She also said she does not intend to "take over" any school districts, but rather create coordinators to work with failing schools and get them back on track.

Tennessee-based EdisonLearning took over the management of the failing Gary Roosevelt. Todd McIntire, an EdisonLearning vice president, said the election of a new Superintendent of Public Instruction offers the potential for changes in education policy in Indiana, but it will be difficult to speculate what those changes will be.

"Our focus continues to be on the work we are undertaking at Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy, and we will continue to fulfill our role as long as the Indiana Department of Education seeks our assistance in helping to improve the education options for students in Gary," McIntire said.

During an emotional concession speech Tuesday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Bennett told a crowd of supporters he had no regrets.

"I ask our state to never stop putting children first. I challenge our legislators to continue on a path of reform, continue spending the 55.6 percent of its state budget with the intent of advancing children first in this state," he said.

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