The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 19, 2019 1:00 am

In city stop, schools chief urges public to be a voice

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

About 100 people – including parents, teachers and school board members – packed an auditorium Thursday night for State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who encouraged attendees to be a voice for public schools.

McCormick, whose elected role will be a governor-appointed post starting in January 2021, was particularly passionate about the 2020 race.

“For 2020, if we don't push on our state folks who are running for office and say 'What is your philosophy on public education? Show me your plan about education. Who are you running as your state superintendent?' If we don't push and we're quiet, shame on us,” McCormick said.

Candidates are rarely questioned about education issues, she said.

“If we don't ask, they're not going to say,” McCormick said, “and I don't think they're going to show.”

McCormick's presentation at Ivy Tech Community College was sponsored by parent advocacy group KISS – Keep Indiana Schools Strong and Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education.

Representatives from each Allen County school district attended along with many representing schools in neighboring communities.

McCormick spoke for about an hour, sharing information about student demographics and why 35% of teachers leave the profession within five years.

“They're leaving it because of pay and working conditions,” McCormick said. “For us to act like the pay doesn't matter ... pay has a lot to do with this.”

She wasn't optimistic about the current legislative session.

“I think our vouchers are going to be big winners this session, and I think our charters are going to be decent winners this session,” McCormick said. “Our public schools, I'm still very, very concerned about.”

Much of the question-and-answer segment that followed addressed ways for people to voice their concerns. That's been a common theme at other presentations, McCormick said afterward.

“I think a lot of us teachers are really starting to think, is it time to start a movement?” an educator and parent of two school-age children asked.

“Collective efforts matter,” McCormick said.

When contacting lawmakers, she said, the message should be concise. Including data and specifics about a school's situation is helpful, she added.

Chris Himsel, Northwest Allen County Schools superintendent, said it's not too late to make a difference this legislative session, which ends next week.

“Next week they will decide the budget. They will decide the funding for every school in the state of Indiana,” Himsel said.

“You have an opportunity, and it's a simple thing,” he continued. “It's a 30-second to 1-minute phone call, to call down there and say simply, 'When it comes to the budget, I want to make sure my public school child is funded. Please fund my public school child over expanding voucher requirements, expanding the number of kids that qualify for charter school.''

McCormick said there's another option to consider: run for office.

“We need good people to run who believe in public education,” she said.

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