News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 11, 2013

Ritz kicks off new statewide reading program

Speaks at Clay County Democrat dinner Friday night

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

BRAZIL — On the day she kicked off a new, statewide, literacy program, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz made an evening stop in Clay County to speak to the Democratic party faithful.

Ritz, the only Democrat to win a statewide race in last November’s general election, launched a new family reading program Friday morning in Indianapolis and spoke at the Clay County Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Brazil on Friday night.

“We’re going to be about engaging families,” Ritz said of the new reading program, which encourages Hoosier families to spend at least 20 minutes each day reading.

“It’s all about family literacy,” Ritz told the Tribune-Star before joining the dinner crowd in the Traditions banquet center on National Avenue. “Parents are very important in what we are doing going forward.”

Ritz’s victory in November over incumbent Republican Tony Bennett has made her the top Democratic elected official in the state. Even in mostly-Republican Clay County where GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney received two votes for every vote cast for President Obama, Ritz out-polled her Republican opponent by nearly 700 votes.

“This is an excellent crowd,” said Clay County Democratic Party chairman Harvey Roscoe, looking at the full banquet center before Ritz arrived around 7 p.m. The goal of the Jefferson Jackson Dinner is to raise funds for the county party, he said.

Currently three members of the Clay County Council are Democrats, but the party is currently struggling to win countywide positions, Roscoe said. Republicans Alan Morrison and Jim Baird currently represent approximately two halves of Clay County in the Indiana House. However, Democratic State Sen. Tim Skinner, who had also been scheduled to speak Friday night, also represents the county in Indianapolis.

In Skinner’s place, Jim Mann spoke to the dinner crowd. Mann, a social studies teacher at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, lost his first run for elective office last November to GOP Rep. Bob Heaton.

Ritz said she planned to talk to the dinner guests about the often controversial ISTEP tests, which this year again had technical difficulties, leading Ritz to question the validity of some of the results.

“There’s high stakes attached to the test,” Ritz said. “I’m bound by law, both federal and state, to do accountability measures. I need to figure out which test sessions are valid and which ones are not.” An independent third party will assess the validity of the tests, she said.

Ritz also noted she has “redesigned” the Indiana Department of Education and is introducing a new system for evaluating school performance that is less reliant on standardized test scores.

“We’re going to be doing what I call a school culture improvement process,” Ritz said. “So we won’t just use test scores, language arts and math. We’re going to be looking at improvements in a variety of areas” including safety, discipline and reading programs.

Ritz, who was heavily supported by teachers and the Indiana State Teachers Association, also noted she is opposed to the Indiana charter school board, which she said has too much authority to introduce charter schools anywhere in the state. She also restated her opposition to school vouchers.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com