Dan Elsener said something at the State Board meeting Monday that really resonated with me.
The board was about to vote on new academic standards — standards the parents who testified at the meeting bitterly opposed.
“The folks that are concerned about this are not the problem,” Elsener said, urging them to remain actively engaged in their children’s schools, education and futures. “They’re part of the solution.”
And it’s true. When I moved to Indiana in 2012, I couldn’t have picked a more contentious time to be covering education policy. The state was just starting to roll out many controversial education initiatives passed under former Gov. Mitch Daniels and then-superintendent Tony Bennett. I spent my first six months here covering the run-up to the election. Of course, Bennett lost to now-state superintendent Glenda Ritz.
That feels like eons ago now. But the thing that’s stuck with me about this job is the question I got asked, over and over, during campaign season: What do you really think of Bennett and Ritz?
I always answered honestly.
“They have two very different visions for Indiana schools,” I would say. “But I truly believe they both think they’re doing the right things for kids.”
When it’s your kid, it’s hard to listen when someone wants to make changes at his school you don’t like. And you may not believe, like I do, that the person on the other side of the aisle cares — really cares — about Indiana schools. But it’s the most concrete truth I’ve learned on the beat.
Next week, I’ll start a new job reporting for KCUR in Kansas City, Mo. I’m moving back to my hometown and couldn’t be more excited to be close to family and friends again. But I’m also really sad Monday’s State Board meeting was my last. I’ve had a blast covering education in Indiana. I’ve gotten to work with smart, talented, funny people. Yet it feels like the right time to turn over the reigns to Claire McInerny and Rachel Morello.
The policies that were brand new when I first started are now three years old. We’re learning more about how school vouchers, merit pay and academic standards are shaping schools. Already, Indiana has revisited its decision to adopt the Common Core. I’ll be eager to read what Claire and Rachel write as lawmakers evaluate how well other initiatives have worked.
Elsener is right. Every parent, grandparent and citizen who cares about education makes this state’s schools better. Even when they disagree. Especially when they disagree.
Good luck, godspeed and stay in touch.