Indiana Republicans facing choice in schools chief race

June 4, 2016

A school district administrator with Republican establishment support and a tea party-backed college instructor are set to square off at next weekend's Indiana Republican convention for the party's nomination for superintendent of public instruction.

Republicans are looking to regain control of the state Department of Education from Democrat Glenda Ritz, who is seeking re-election to the position she won in in 2012 and has since clashed repeatedly with Gov. Mike Pence and GOP legislative leaders over education policy.

Some Republican leaders are backing Yorktown Community Schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. She has focused on the need to improve communication between the Education Department and local schools, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The other candidate who will be considered at the GOP's June 11 convention is Dawn Wooten of Fort Wayne, who has gained support from social conservatives and argues Indiana's academic standards remain too similar to the national Common Core benchmarks that the state withdrew from in 2014.

One delegate said she is supporting Wooten because she's not a "rubber stamp."

"I believe Dawn is willing to reassess what the needs of our children are and how to best provide them with a solid academic education and will not be shy about being outspoken where the federal government is overstepping its bounds," said Glenna Jehl, a member of the Fort Wayne Community School Board.

But Rebecca Kubacki, a delegate and former state representative from Syracuse, said she supports McCormick because people are "really getting tired of the 'say no to everything' mentality."

"It gets us absolutely nowhere," Kubacki said. "I feel like Jennifer is just more open-minded. Hey, we understand our school system isn't perfect, but instead of slamming it all the time, what can I do to make it a better school system for kids—that's what we need to focus on."

McCormick has received campaign contributions from Hoosiers for Quality Education, an organization promoting the state's private school voucher program; former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who was recently selected as the next Ivy Tech Community College president; and Eli Lilly and Co. CEO John Lechleiter.

McCormick became the top administrator of the Yorktown district near Muncie in 2010 after previously being an English teacher and elementary school principal. Wooten has been an instructor at Ivy Tech and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Both candidates say much of the anger teachers felt under former Republican schools Superintendent Tony Bennett has subsided. Ritz defeated Bennett in 2012 and has opposed GOP-backed initiatives, including the state's A-F grading system for schools, the use of private school vouchers and the state takeover of poorly performing schools.


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