News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 13, 2008

Election '08: Indiana Superintendent of Public Education

By Tara Hettinger

From working with the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated Schools Corp. to Greater Clark County Schools, Tony Bennett is well-known in the Southern Indiana area.

Bennett, who is running for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, also seems to be no stranger to others in the state, as he has raised more than $107,700 as of June 30, 2008, according to the most recent campaign finance documents filed with the state.

Bennett, who has worked at superintendent at GCCS since 2007, came from the county next door, after working as assistant superintendent for administration and operations.

The Republican candidate is seeking to fill Republican Suellen Reed’s position. Reed, who has held that seat for nearly 16 years, announced this summer that she would not be seeking another term.

“I am a person of action and I believe that if we are going to continue to make sure that Indiana is a land of opportunity for generations to come, we have to address how we educate kids,” Bennett said. “People should vote for me, because we will effect real change in Indiana that results in world class education for our students.”

Education hubs

One of Bennett’s ideas for creating that change involves making the Indiana Department of Education more of a resource for school districts, by having DOE hubs throughout the state that are more convenient to visit. Those would be in the state’s nine educational service centers. He said those will focus on customer service and providing resources to the various school corporations.

Graduation rates

Another issue he said that needs to be addressed is the graduation rate, which is 76.5 percent for the state. Locally, New Albany and Jeffersonville high schools came in at 61.4 percent and 69.5 percent, respectively.

“We need to make sure that when kids walk into school that they are there ready to learn,” Bennett said.

He said schools need to focus on where a child is at and take him to his highest ability. Bennett said excellence needs to be the goal.

No Child Left Behind

As for the federal No Child Left Behind Act, where schools are required to make Adequate Yearly Progress or fail, Bennett said some tweaking is necessary.

GCCS, which Bennett managed this past year, failed to make progress, according to the 2007 Adequate Yearly Progress scores. However, it also failed every year the program has been in existence, according to the Indiana DOE.

“The No Child Left Behind Act, the entire piece of legislation, is intended to assert accountability in the schools. I maintain there is absolutely nothing wrong with that,” Bennett said.

Barriers to learning

The changes he said are necessary include focusing on making each child capable of competing against any other child across the United States and world for jobs and educational opportunities.

He said in addition to that, schools need to address the fact that they have students who come from all over the world, many of which cannot speak English fluently.

“We have to be sure we are offering all children a great education regardless of what barriers confront us when they come into our schools,” Bennett said.

Property taxes

As for property taxes, Bennett said he supports property tax caps, which would help homeowners while tightening the budgets of local government entities, including school corporations. He said that provides relief to property taxpayers and makes the local units of government work together to maximize dollars.

The campaign

As Bennett campaigns across the state, he is also balancing his duties as superintendent at GCCS. He said he’s been working nights and weekends to accomplish both tasks.

Bennett said the office will change no matter who is elected, since the position will be changing hands for the first time in 16 years. However, he said if elected, he will remain focused on the goal.

“Our goal is again to address the challenges we face in education with a very positive, vision-driven approach that says we can solve these issues and that Indiana students can compete against students from anywhere in the United States,” Bennett said.

As for having more people racing to the poles, either motivated due to the presidential or governor’s election, Bennett said he was not sure how that will affect his chances. He said he’ll leave the numbers to the political experts.


• Bennett received his Ed.D and Indiana Superintendent’s License from Spalding University in 2005; his Certification in Secondary Administration and Supervision from Indiana University Southeast in 1994; his Master of Science in Secondary Education from Indiana University Southeast in 1988; and his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from Indiana University Southeast in 1984.

• He currently lives in New Albany with his wife, Tina, a principal at Clarksville High School and former classroom teacher. He has four children — 22-year-old triplets and a 19-year-old daughter — and a grandchild.

• 2001 – 2007: New Albany – Floyd County Consolidated Schools — assistant superintendent for administration and operations

• 1999 – 2001: NAFCCS — principal of Prosser School of Technology

• 1997-1999: Scott County School District 2 — principal of Scottsburg High School

• 1993-1997: SCSD2 — assistant principal of SHS/ basketball coach

• 1992-1993: SCSD2 — assistant to the superintendent/ basketball coach

• 1991-1992: SCSD2 — biology teacher/basketball coach

• 1990-1991: Mohawk Local Schools (Sycamore, Ohio) — biology teacher/basketball coach

• 1983-1990: Providence High School — biology/science teacher (basketball coach 1987-1990)

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• Indiana is traditionally a “red” state, even when it comes to voting for the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The last Democrat, John J. Loughlin, was elected in 1970 and served from 1971-1973.

Richard Wood isn’t letting that deter him, nor the fact that he’s raised only a portion of what his competitor has for his campaign at more than $23,000 and $107,700, respectively, according to the candidates and Indiana Campaign Finance’s Web site.

“There are historical challenges in running for this job,” Wood said. “I hope there is enough interest in the election that people will look at the issues.”

Those issues include the graduation rate, full-day kindergarten, making sure all children can read by third grade and helping schools look for ways to save money.

Graduation rate

“For many years, Indiana was not a place where you necessarily had to graduate or go beyond high school. You could go out and get a pretty good job that would pay a fair wage, but those days are long gone,” Wood said. “So, the cost of not finishing high school is much greater not only to the individual, but to our society as a whole.

“I think we’ve got to address that and that’s going to require us to do some things differently than we’ve done in the past.”

He said the graduation rate effects the community because those students who don’t get a high school diploma/G.E.D. are statistically more likely to be on welfare, incarcerated or using funds in other social services.

Wood said to make positive change, people need to look outside the box. Wood said some of his ideas include redesigning the curriculum to engage more students, offer more dual credit options with Ivy Tech Community College and credit for job training.

Wood said alternative programs and charter schools can also help with this issue.


As for his other ideas, Wood hopes to recommit to Indiana’s Project PRIME TIME — a program that has been around for more than 20 years and focuses on increasing literacy in young children. However, Wood said it is no longer fully funded, which is something he hopes to change.


Wood also hopes to help schools work together to limit money spent on daily costs and service agreements, such as gas and food supplies. Wood said the Indiana Department of Education can help bridge that communication between the communities.

Statewide testing

Another thing Wood said Indiana needs to work on is the process after statewide testing.

“We need to have some steps in place to make use of the information, beyond just publishing it in the paper every year,” he said. “You’ve got to commit to bring them [those who don’t pass] up to acceptable levels of performance.”

He said reviewing that information can allow schools to modify curriculum to make sure all students have mastered the subject matter.

“Though that in itself will not ensure that a school is successful,” Wood added. “You know, you’re not only teaching kids the concepts that they are trying to master through the test, you’re trying to teach them responsibility, you’re trying to teach them respect, citizenship.

“There’s a lot of things a standardized test can’t measure, but they’re extremely important for schools to work toward.”

Tax caps

A common question that has with voters is property tax caps, something Wood said he is against.

“There are times that you can’t be locked in on an arbitrary number set in Indianapolis, because you may have very specific infrastructure needs in your community that have to be addressed immediately,” he said. “Caps sometimes aren’t conducive to doing what has to be done.”

He said the taxing rate should be a decision left to local officials.

“If they don’t do the right thing, you have the option at the ballot box to remove them,” Wood said. “I still think, again, you cannot have one size fits all for the entire state of Indiana.”

The campaign

Wood — who recently retired after working 36 years in education — said he is running for the position to maintain an active role in Indiana’s educational system.

More than being superintendent, Wood has worked in the classroom as young as 19, which is when he graduated from college with his degree in teaching.

Since he’s been on both sides for so long, he said he has a good understanding of the demands of the jobs of teachers and administrators.

He has also sat on both sides of the table in the collective bargaining process. Wood said he believes the key to setting contracts is to engage in win-win negotiations and to be honest and upfront with the corporation’s budget situation. He said bargaining that doesn’t lead anywhere hurts the whole community.

He said it is his experience as a teacher and administrator that makes him the best candidate for the job.

“There are many good things to be said about what our schools have done and you don’t want to lose sight of that,” Wood said. “Excellence, it is a chase. It’s not a station. You’ve got to keep working to maintain your edge.”


• Richard Wood retired in June after a 36-year career in public education.

• For the past 19 years Wood served as superintendent of the Tippecanoe School Corp. in Lafayette/West Lafayette.

• He has an Education Specialist degree from Butler University and a doctorate in education from Indiana University.

• Richard Wood completed his Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in less than two years and began his teaching career at age 19.

• He completed his Master’s degree the following year and became assistant principal of Decatur Central High School, in Indianapolis, at age 24.

• By his 30th birthday, Wood was principal of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne and had graduated from Indiana University at Indianapolis Law School. Wood served as Assistant Superintendent for Personnel for M.S.D. Warren Township (Indianapolis) prior to moving to Lafayette.

• Wood grew up in the Irvington area of Indianapolis.

• His wife of 33 years, Carol, grew up in the same neighborhood. Carol retired in May as a Grade Two Gifted/Talented program teacher in Lafayette School Corp.

• Richard and Carol have two adult children.

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