Bennett: State won’t tolerate poorly performing schools
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/648-3154 July 12, 2012 3:30PM
Tony Bennett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks during the Gary Chamber of Commerce's Education Committee forum at Ivy Tech in Gary, Ind. Thursday July 11, 2012. | Sun-Times Media file
Bennett on Gov. Daniels’ new job
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett seemed caught off guard Thursday when an audience member asked for his take on Gov. Mitch Daniels’ new job as president of Purdue University.
Bennett quickly responded: “He has incredible vision and resolve, I don’t know of many smarter men that Mitch Daniels. He brings a presence to Purdue.”
Bennett said Daniels’ national name recognition will aid the university’s funding raising efforts. “He’ll bring a new mentality to higher education... you won’t see a more popular president among students than Mitch Daniels.”
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:21AM
GARY — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett offered compassion toward the struggling Gary public schools Thursday, but also acknowledged “tough decisions” will be made if students aren’t achieving.
Bennett, who’s led an expansive state education reform agenda alongside Gov. Mitch Daniels, received a warm welcome from a gathering of the Gary Chamber of Commerce at Ivy Tech Community College.
Bennett already has made one of those tough decisions by removing a legendary but academically troubled high school from the Gary Community School Corp.
EdisonLearning, a for-profit New York-based education management company, is now running the Roosevelt College and Career Academy. It’s the lone school in Northwest Indiana taken over by the state after years of poor student achievement.
Earlier this week, ISTEP Plus exam results showed only 10.4 percent of Roosevelt’s seventh-and eighth-graders passed the test.
Bennett said a contract has been signed with EdisonLearning to run Roosevelt, but its terms weren’t available. Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said it still needs approval from other state agencies before it’s released.
In June, the State Board of Education set funding of $4.5 million for EdisonLearning to run the school from July through Dec. 31.
That figure was based on a student enrollment of 1,032 students, the school’s 2011-12 figures. So far, however, about 508 students have enrolled. Bennett was vague about the excess money, saying it would go toward turnaround efforts.
Bennett defended his choice of EdisonLearning to operate Roosevelt, despite some stumbles the company, which runs more than 400 schools, had in Texas. “We knew of its struggles,” Bennett said. “There isn’t a perfect recipe, there just isn’t.”
Meanwhile, Bennett provided an overview of the state’s education accomplishments during his tenure and invited questions from the audience that included Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, new Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and state Sen. Earline Rogers. All three are Roosevelt graduates.
Bennett called Indiana a microcosm of the education debate simmering across the country.
“For many years, we continued to go along to get along and never acted,” he said. Although a school accountability measure that called for state takeovers went into effect in 2004, it wasn’t implemented until Bennett did so last year with Roosevelt and four Indianapolis schools.
“The new debate at the national and state level has risen, so we’re acting,” said Bennett.
He said reforms put in place are working, citing statewide ISTEP passing scores at their highest level in history and an all-time high school graduation rate of 85.7 percent.
Bennett said adult bickering has no place in the debate over what’s the best course for children. “We have to have the wisdom to say kids are first,” he said.
Answering an audience question, Bennett said high expectations are important for special needs children.
He mentioned the struggles of his own 26-year-old daughter, who is dyslexic, but will soon receive a nursing degree.
“I believe every child gets up in the morning wanting adults to tell them, ‘You will succeed,’ ” he said.