Outgoing superintendent Tony Bennett reflects on 4 years in office during last week in Indiana

Glenda Ritz moves in Monday

INDIANAPOLIS - The state will get a new education leader next week when Democrat Glenda Ritz takes over for outgoing Republican Tony Bennett.

The battle over education dollars and issues is expected to get heated as the legislative session kick-offs in the statehouse.

As superintendent, Bennett was a polarizing figure -- teachers and public school officials either loved him or hated him.

Despite those feelings, Bennett was always candid and consistent on his positions, even if meant losing the election. Now, Bennett is focused on moving forward and leading Florida's public schools.

"I have to put Indiana in my rear view mirror and Florida in my windshield," Bennett said.

Bennett's record of reforms, which captured the interest of the nation, also antagonized public school advocates who believe Bennett was draining funding from public schools to bolster private education.

"(People thought) it had a negative intention, (that) I was some draconian force wanting to destroy the pillars of public education, and nothing is more removed from the truth," Bennett said.

Despite a chorus of criticism, Bennett championed what no other superintendent had done in placing academic failing schools under state control, pushing a new A through F scale to grade school performance, new teacher evaluations tied to merit pay and vouchers allowing thousands of kids to attend the school of their choice.

"Every parent should have the right to send children to school of their choice," Bennett said. "When we get to that point in education, we will get it right."

The voters rejected Bennett after four years on the job.
 
Incoming schools chief Glenda Ritz has her own agenda that looks nothing his.

If it weren't for a Republican super-majority in the statehouse, Ritz would more than likely dump the initiatives Bennett believes will pay off for Hoosier school children.

"I wish the best for Glenda Ritz… No animosity," Bennett said. "I hope she is successful…. I firmly believe no one will fault the policies. Our policies are the right policies for the state of Indiana."

Bennett must be out by Friday afternoon.

Come Monday, a new school leader and new governor will either collide or collaborate on setting education policies.

"I went into this eyes wide open knowing if we did what was right we would upset the apple cart enough that there would be a mandate against me, and that's what happened," Bennett said.

Bennett considered several jobs before taking the one in Florida, where he will serve at the pleasure of the board of education and Gov. Rick Scott.
 

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