Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Statehouse: Tony Bennett

State Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett speaks to representatives from Northeast Indiana Chambers Tuesday morning in the Indiana Statehouse.

By Jon Swerens, Director of Communications at The Chamber

When writing a story about Indiana's Superintendent of Schools, it's tempting to press "record" and relax. Bennett is not one to give an uninteresting quote. Examples from Tuesday:

"We are engaging in the most comprehensive education reform in the nation."

"We have the most cumbersome system known to man to remove people who do not belong in front of children."

"(The state) can't run a snack bar. No way can we create an evaluation system."

OK, I like that last one.

But it's understandable why people listening to him speak seem startled, like someone poured ice water down their shirts. This is not how we expect school officials to talk. We expect cool, considerate men, not firebrands like Bennett.*

Soft words are not Bennett's style, nor would they advance his cause well. He is clear in saying that "nibbling at the edges of the problem" has not solved any of the issues the state's public schools are facing, and in fact has only delayed progress.

Instead, he says a comprehensive overhaul of the system is necessary to see the educational gains he's hoping for.

But as his snack bar comment above indicates, he knows the best solutions are not going to descend from the Statehouse. They will bubble up from the individual school districts, "as long as every one of the measures is focused on children."

Bennett has nothing but praise for Dr. Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, calling her a leader in education reform in Indiana. And he does seem to genuinely seek out allies in the state by emphasizing the importance of a top-notch staff: "What makes great schools? Great teachers and great principals make great schools."

But then Bennett upends any expectation that he would seek more money to achieve his goals.

"It's not, 'How do we get more money for education?' but, 'How do we get more education for our money?'"

Ice water again. But at least you always know where he's coming from.

* Yes, I realize I mixed my hot/cold metaphors there.

No comments: