Tony Bennett: DOE’s New Sheriff

After spending about 90 minutes with Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, I think it’s fair to call him a "gunslinger." He admits that he will likely get himself in trouble at times with what he says. But as long as he feels he’s speaking the truth about improving the state’s subpar K-12 performance, so be it.

Bennett brings an energy that was definitely lacking. You can read a Q&A in the next BizVoice magazine, available online February 27 and in the mail to 15,000 print subscribers the same day. One subject not included in that story was full-day kindergarten.

He says although "the governor and I feel very strongly the need to finish the job (fully funding the program), we can’t write a check we can’t cash." Regarding the effectiveness of such programs thus far, Bennett notes, "As school corporations, we’ve not been ahead of the curve on articulating a curriculum based on full-day kindergarten. We made the shift from half day to full day, but did we articulate our curriculum for first, second and third grades based on full-day kindergarten? In many cases, I’m afraid we didn’t."

What do others say? From our roundtable discussion in the same issue on a variety of K-12 issues, Evansville superintendent Vince Bertram claims, "I think we’re going to see a major culture shift in the Department of Education from a strictly compliant culture to one of service and support for schools. So, if we call the Department of Education, it’s not that the answer is, ‘No, we can’t do this,’ it’s ‘Let’s find a way to get this,’ and that’s going to be very helpful for schools."

David Shane, a member of the State Board of Education, adds that deregulation will be a major theme for both Bennett and the board. Like Bertram, he calls it a transition from a "controlling environment to a supporting environment."

Read the latest from the DOE and check out the BizVoice stories at the end of the month.