KATTERJOHN: Leaders in education primed for success

June 22, 2009

The 2009 session of the Indiana General Assembly is a bust. That is, if you were looking for something more than a budget and a fix for the Capital Improvement Board.

Those of us who had higher aspirations for a more productive session—one that dealt with government reform, among other serious topics—will have to wait until next year. Maybe.

So my mind turns to education, which hopefully will fare well—relatively speaking, of course, in light of the recession and shortage of revenue the state is facing—by the end of the short session now in progress.

Long term, the stars have aligned in education to pave the way for some serious progress, which is quite necessary in a state ranked 43rd in the nation in the number of adults with a bachelor's degree or higher and where only 53 percent of our college students graduate within six years.

I'm optimistic because of the people in leadership positions for the state in three key areas—the Department of Education, the Commission for Higher Education and Ivy Tech Community College.

DOE chief Tony Bennett is the real deal. I've met with him on two different occasions and have been impressed by his ideas and energy. He's straightforward and doesn't mince words—a trait that may alienate some adults along the way but will help him reach the lofty goals he's set.

Bennett means it when he says he's mostly concerned with Hoosier kids and their futures in a competitive world. He believes in accountability, high standards and high achievement. And don't let the aw-shucks attitude fool you.

Down the street at CHE, veteran state Sen. Teresa Lubbers is set to take over as commissioner when the General Assembly adjourns. A progressive leader in education for a long time, Lubbers is the perfect choice for Stan Jones' replacement.

Her credentials are unmatched. She chaired the Senate's education committee for several years and has sat on the state's education roundtable for nine years. In both these and other capacities, she has become well-versed in the issues.

What's more, her experience in dealing in both K-12 and higher education puts her in a position to work well with Bennett to mesh the goals of both their departments—put simply, preparing more K-12 students earlier for higher ed and ensuring that more Hoosier kids graduate from some form of post-high-school instruction with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful.

Another plus: Bennett and Lubbers like and respect each other. They should work well together. Lubbers' connections developed over the years at the Statehouse certainly won't hurt, either.

Then there's the third member of this key triumvirate—Tom Snyder, CEO of Ivy Tech. The state's community college system will play a vital role for the people who need education and training but can't afford or don't want to go to college.

Snyder brings a wealth of business savvy and experience to his job, along with what appears to be boundless energy and a positive attitude. He does a great job of articulating Ivy Tech's current challenges: record-level enrollment along with a shortage of professors and money.

Each of these leaders provides a strong public face for their respective institutions and possesses the ideas and skills they need to push their agendas forward. They also see that their collaboration will be more important than ever if Indiana wants to improve results in education.

Let's hope the climate is right in the schools, in the minds of the teachers and administrators, and in the General Assemblies of the future for the potential of this alignment of the stars to reap rewards.•

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.

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