After 16 years, Suellen Reed’s reign as superintendent of public instruction is nearing the end. Voters will choose this November between a new Republican nominee, Dr. Tony Bennett, who is currently the superintendent of the Greater Clark County Schools, and the Democrat nominee, Dr. Dick Wood, who just retired as superintendent of Tippecanoe School Corporation.
Over the next several months, we can expect to hear at least some debate on which of these gentlemen will best carry on the 16-year legacy of Reed. School leaders, who are largely happy with Reed, will be looking for someone who can continue on her role as chief defender of all that is good in public schools. Meanwhile, those of us interested in reform will be looking for a candidate who can return leadership and new ideas to the office.
It is difficult to say what Reed and her supporters will tout as her accomplishments. She opposed most of the leading reforms that occurred during her tenure, including: revision of our state standards, reform of the ISTEP test and establishment of Core 40 as a graduation requirement. She was also largely silent during consideration of charter school legislation and then nearly killed the movement in its infancy with her administration of charter school funding.
In the absence of other leadership, Gov. Daniels has tried desperately during his first term to provide substantial deregulation for our schools, to force greater financial efficiencies and to raise the dialogue on teacher quality. As Reed has been painfully silent on these issues, many of us are hoping that a new superintendent will help lead on these and other issues that are critical to the future of our schools.
Perhaps most importantly, many — both in education and outside — are looking forward to a much improved Department of Education. Multiple stories by the Indianapolis Star and others have highlighted the dismal job the department has done on managing critical data such as high school graduation rates. But as highlighted by outside reviews by independent groups like Crowe Chizek, the problems with data are just the beginning of a management overhaul that is long overdue.
The Indiana Chamber does not endorse candidates in the state superintendent race, but we will be watching carefully what each of these candidates has to say. Nobody can question the passion with which Reed has performed her job for the last four terms, but for the sake of our state, the next superintendent needs to transform that passion to ideas and leadership.
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