Holcomb appoints state’s first education secretary

Katie Jenner will serve as Indiana’s first education secretary, the beginning of a new era for a state where the top education official has long been vocally independent.

Her appointment was announced Thursday by Holcomb’s office.

An adviser to Gov. Eric Holcomb, Jenner formerly served as a vice president at Ivy Tech Community College. Jenner has experience in school administration as an assistant principal and assistant superintendent in Madison Consolidated Schools in southern Indiana. Jenner is also on the governor’s commission tasked with making recommendations for how to improve teacher salaries.

Jenner will begin her new role Jan. 11. She has worked alongside Holcomb for over a year, allowing for a smooth transition. It seems likely that her policy priorities will mirror those of the Holcomb administration, which has touted the importance of technology access during the pandemic and pushed for increased teacher pay.

An adviser to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, Jenner formerly served as a vice president at Ivy Tech Community College. (Courtesy of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office, via Chalkbeat Indiana)

The secretary of education will report directly to Holcomb as part of the cabinet, unlike the independently elected state superintendent. That will allow Holcomb to drive the state’s education agenda without the risk of butting heads with the state’s top educator.

“This is an incredibly important time for education in Indiana. Dr. Katie Jenner has focused her entire career on investing in students, teachers and staff, and she will continue to build the relationships needed to move our state forward in constructive ways,” Holcomb said in a statement. “As Indiana’s Secretary of Education, Dr. Jenner’s certification, work at nearly every level of education and her remarkable depth of experience will lead our state into this exciting next chapter.”

Jenner takes the helm of the department at a tumultuous moment when schools across the state are halting in-person instruction due to the surging pandemic. In addition to helping schools navigate the coronavirus and develop plans for helping students catch up after months of interrupted instruction, Jenner will help shape and implement state policy on testing, school accountability, and education funding.

Jenner will replace Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, the state’s last elected schools chief. Four years ago, McCormick won election in a wave of Republican support in Indiana, defeating popular Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz. But she soon won over supporters of traditional public schools.

In the years since she has clashed with fellow Republicans, and this fall, she endorsed Holcomb’s unsuccessful Democratic challenger.

The change to the office was already in the works before McCormick found herself at odds with other politicians. Holcomb began pushing to make the position appointed soon after he won his first term.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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