Dianne Frances D. Powell
Issues surrounding public education in Indiana were at the forefront of discussion Friday night at South Vermillion High School, as the community welcomed Glenda Ritz, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, to an event hosted by the Greater Clinton Chamber of Commerce.
About 50 community members, mostly educators and their families, sat in the audience at the school’s auditorium as Ritz talked about two major issues — outreach and assessment — during the “Putting on the Ritz” back-to-school event.
“I’m excited to be here,” Ritz began her talk, adding that it is her first time visiting the school district.
It is also her first time at an education forum hosted by a Chamber of Commerce, she said.
And education is very much in line with the chamber’s mission, she said.
Greater Clinton Chamber of Commerce president Joanie Kanizer said the group decided to put together the event because one of the things on their mission statement is to help improve quality of life in the area.
“A good education definitely improves quality of life,” Kanizer said.
The chamber has been supporting some local school programs, such as the accelerated reading program, and “we thought it would be very appropriate” to put on the event.
After a brief introduction by South Vermillion School Corp. Superintendent Dave Chapman, Ritz started discussing initiatives that the department has started.
Ritz said that the Department of Education has created a new division, called Outreach.
The new division, Outreach Division of School Improvement, will work “to make sure that our schools get the services they need and deserve right down to the student level,” Ritz said.
Several coordinators around the state will work with school districts starting this school year to develop a database of information to show the needs of each school in each region and get services to them.
Ritz gave the example that if it was determined that schools need wifi-access for students and a device to use that wifi-connection for educational purposes, “we are going to be able, for the first time in Indiana, to pull up information and actually know which schools don’t have that.”
Then, she said, resources can be focused to provide students with that needed access.
“It’s made to change the system in how we serve the students, and changing an entire system is not a very easy task,” Ritz said.
“No one else is really trying this in the nation,” she added.
Before the start of her talk, Ritz toured the Mobile School Based Health Center, a medical clinic on a bus that travels to schools in Parke and Vermillion Counties to provide health care services to students. Ritz mentioned that initiative to her audience as an example of the kind of outreach — the kind that gets services to students — that she wants to do with Indiana schools.
“I was excited to come here and learn about the program. I’m going to take some information back to the Department of Education, and we’re going to talk about how to get that kind of approach expanded in other areas around the state of Indiana,” she said.
The other “large item” that Ritz discussed at the event is assessment.
In an interview with reporters, Ritz said that assessment is the one area that she believes needs work.
“I’m wanting to see really good growth measure assessments in place for students, so we can not only see where our students are performing, but also if they are performing at or above level. There’s been a lot of advancement in the area of assessment in the last several years, and so I look forward to working with the state board of education to have some good assessments in place by 2015-2016 that will replace ISTEP,” she said.
Inside the auditorium, Ritz discussed the problems with current assessment that does not provide a full picture of students’ performance.
“I am looking forward to [school year 20]15-2016 where we will hopefully go from a pass/fail test to what I call a growth measure test, where there is a Pre-K bottom and there is no ceiling at all. We will always know where our students are performing,” and give them coursework that will be beneficial to them, she said.
Before the end of the forum, Ritz took questions from the audience on a variety of topics, including teaching licensing rules, merit pay, teacher evaluations and the decline of the number of young people entering the teaching profession.
Teacher licensing rules “will be looked at again,” she said.
So is the teaching evaluation system that she calls “stressful” to teachers.
After the talk, Ritz toured the school accompanied by Chapman.
Ritz encouraged the audience to continue the dialogue.
“Education needs to be right up there and being talked about everywhere,” she said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.