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State school chief discusses her priorities


"Raise your hand if you're a teacher in this area," State School Superintendent Glenda Ritz told the audience in the Jordan Hall of Science at the University of Notre Dame Saturday morning.

A couple dozen hands went up.

"Yeah, see!" Ritz said encouragingly to the teachers, a microcosm of the group that helped her defeat former State School Superintendent Tony Bennett last fall.

"Giving up a Saturday ...," she said to her supporters, smiling.

Ritz stopped in for a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Forum to give a brief talk and then participate in a panel discussion on high-quality teaching.

During her opening remarks, she told the audience she's in the process of doing some restructuring of the Indiana Department of Education.

Outreach coordinators, who will be the first line of contact with the Indiana DOE for schools, are being established in nine regions throughout the state.

And she'd like to make a change in the school improvement process, she said, that would emphasize new things, like a school's culture and its safety structures.

"A lot of policies in Indiana have to be undone for us to move forward," she stated.

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee agreed last week with her that Indiana's new A-F grading scale for schools should be thrown out.

But that victory for Ritz, who is a Democrat, came on the heels of a House committee approval of a bill that would take away from her the administration of the state's private school voucher program.

The STEM angle

When it comes to science, technology, engineering and math education in the United States, panelist Matthew Kloser of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at Notre Dame said, "the picture isn't that rosy."

Other panelists Saturday included Principal Nathan Boyd and teacher Patricia Chrenka, both from LaSalle Intermediate Academy in South Bend.

Students in the country are below average on achievement in STEM subjects, Kloser said, as well as being less interested in those subjects.

Research, he said, shows that while the type of curriculum used is important, as are the class size and an instructor's experience and own educational background, the quality of teaching is the most important variable.

"So if we focus on instructional process, we have a lever," he said, to improve student achievement and interest in STEM areas.

Among other things, Boyd said expectations for teachers at LaSalle are high. They're required to show students real-world applications of material they're taught.