Indiana's new superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Glenda Ritz, said she can make some policy changes for the state's schools without needing the approval of the Republican-controlled General Assembly and governor's office, but that she welcomes input, no matter where it comes from.
Ritz told The Times of Munster for a story Sunday that she has enough flexibility in the office to get schools "moving forward in a different direction."
She defeated Tony Bennett, the Republican incumbent, in the Nov. 7 election. Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence said he didn't view her victory as a referendum on the education overhaul championed by Bennett and outgoing Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.
"We ran on a platform of continuing a bold agenda of education reform ... and we've been given the opportunity to lead based on those ideas," Pence said at the time.
Ritz acknowledges she doesn't have enough votes in the Republican-dominated Legislature to make big policy changes, such as a repealing Indiana's private school voucher program, but she said she will be able to tweak them.
For example, Ritz said she plans to do away with the pass or fail test for third-grade reading competency implemented by Bennett and instead measure struggling students' progress after giving them intensive instruction.
She said that also applies to Bennett's emphasis on ISTEP-Plus standardized testing and the A-F grading system used to rate schools.
"I believe there's policy and implementation that goes in a different direction from what we're doing now," Ritz said.
Ritz wants the Indiana Department of Education to also do a better job supporting local schools instead of just telling them what to do.
"We're going to be doing quite a different approach, a real, real bottom-up approach in providing professional development, resources and any type of support that might be needed," Ritz said. "When you get memos from me regarding policy you will already know what it's about, because you will have been part of making the decision."
She also wants to hear from mayors and city councils, who she said also have major stakes in the quality of schools.
"We're going to be working with the community to make plans and put in motion action that will actually address the challenges," Ritz said.
Ritz said she's interested in working with Pence to implement his plan for added vocational and technical education in Indiana high schools.
She met with House and Senate leaders and the chairmen of both chambers' education committees last week and wants to hear lawmakers' ideas on improving education in Indiana classrooms.
"I don't really care what political party a legislator belongs to, I'll be working with everyone," Ritz said.