State Superintendent Race

Ritz vs. McCormick is the 2016 showdown for Indiana state superintendent

Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick accepts the nomination for Indiana state superintendent at the Indiana GOP Convention.

Yorktown school Superintendent Jennifer McCormick today was named the Republican choice to challenge incumbent Democrat Glenda Ritz in the November election for state superintendent at Indiana’s GOP convention in Indianapolis.

McCormick, who has been backed by supporters of Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, since she announced her plan to run in January, only faced one challenger at the convention: Dawn Wooten, an English instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne.

Despite a flyer circulated Friday by Wooten’s team highlighting McCormick’s sometimes Democratic voting history in Delaware County, McCormick was the crowd favorite after speeches by both and won easily, taking 1,030 votes to Wooten’s 574.

McCormick said Ritz was a poor leader and manager of the Indiana Department of Education. In her place, McCormick promised to “establish a vision that promises a world class education.”

“Currently, we have a Department of Education that lacks leadership and vision,” McCormick said, “and, when you have that, things become disorganized and disconnected from the local level.”

McCormick was a favorite of party leaders going in because of her background as an educator and school leader. She has been a teacher, principal and superintendent. She will need to capitalize on those strengths in the fall against Ritz, who is popular with educators.

“Indiana students deserve a state superintendent with proven and successful K-12 leadership,” McCormick said. “And I am the only candidate running in either party with that experience.”

McCormick has a doctorate in educational leadership from Indiana State University and has been superintendent in Yorktown, near Muncie, for five years. The district has been rated an A for six straight years, primarily for high test scores.

Ritz is one of fewer than 200 Indiana teachers to earn National Board certified teachers, a challenging credential, and served as both a regular and special education teacher before finishing her classroom experience as an elementary school librarian. She also was president of the teachers union in Washington Township, one of the state’s largest.

McCormick will try to repeat the stunning success Ritz had in 2012, by beating a high profile incumbent seeking re-election. Ritz, a political unknown, was given little chance against Bennett, who had become a national school reform darling for pushing school choice, tougher teacher evaluation and more school accountability in his term in office.

Despite being massively outspent by Bennett, Ritz built a sophisticated word-of-mouth campaign that utilized union contacts, educator networks and skillful social media techniques to build a winning coalition.

Among the issues McCormick is expected to challenge Ritz on big issues from her term, like changes to state academic standards and ISTEP testing. But Ritz’s campaign spokeswoman Annie Mansfield today touted her announcement last week of a plan to expand preschool to make it available to all Indiana children.

“Ritz has maintained a focus on establishing universal pre-K, providing adequate funding for all public schools and investing in high-quality teachers,” Mansfield said

She said Ritz’s team expected McCormick’s nomination.

“Gov. (Mike) Pence has been attacking Superintendent Ritz for the past four years, so it’s no surprise that his handpicked candidate would launch her campaign by doing the same,” Mansfield said.

Ritz, who had no primary challengers, will be formally nominated along with gubernatorial candidate John Gregg at next weekend’s Democratic convention.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”