Gov. Eric Holcomb choosing his chief education adviser to be Indiana’s first secretary of education was about as surprising as night following day. The whole point of making this an appointed position, after all, was so the governor and secretary would be on the same page regarding education. Who better to hold the job than someone who has worked closely with Holcomb on K-12 policy?
That said, Katie Jenner looks to be a reasonable choice. She was a teacher, albeit briefly. She was an assistant principal and assistant superintendent at Madison Consolidated Schools. She worked at Ivy Tech Community College until Holcomb made her his senior education adviser. She has master’s and doctoral degrees in education, along with an MBA.
She will take over the duties now carried out by Jennifer McCormick, Indiana’s last elected superintendent of public instruction. Legislators voted to change the name of the position to secretary of education and to make it appointed, not elected.
Jenner has mostly kept a low profile in state policy and politics, and it seems she hasn’t made any real enemies or clashed publicly with other officials. From what little I’ve heard, she is competent, well liked and committed to education. Advocacy groups from across the spectrum say they are eager to work with her (not that they have a choice). I also wish her well and hope she does a great job.
Jason Bearce, vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, reiterated the group’s support for having the governor appoint the chief education officer.
“What we are particularly excited about with Katie is in both her prior roles for the Madison Consolidated Schools and Ivy Tech Community College she worked closely with employers to better align K-12 education with workforce needs and opportunities,” Bearce said in a statement.
Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said it was “critical” that Jenner has experience in K-12 education as a teacher and administrator.
“We look forward to working with Dr. Jenner to bring leaders together to invest in public schools, support Hoosier educators and provide the highest quality public education for our students,” he said.
But, for better or worse, Jenner will answer to the governor, not to the voters. McCormick, elected in 2016 as a Republican, has been a fiercely independent state superintendent. She has been an outspoken advocate for public school districts, sometimes clashing with supporters of charter and private schools.
Jenner won’t play that role, but will she stand up to legislators and the State Board of Education if they push policies that aren’t good for schools and students? With the state facing tough decisions on school funding, accountability and other issues, we may find out soon.