SUPERINTENDENT’S CORNER: State superintendent should remain elected position

By LAURA HAMMACK, guest columnist

Our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, Jennifer McCormick, has impressed me since long before she hit the campaign trail.

I was an audience member for a training that she was leading while she was superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools. She communicated a keen intellect, “can-do” spirit and a commitment to making the boys and girls of her school district the foundation for her decision making. She really stood out to me as a leader whom I would like to follow.

Dr. McCormick has only been in office since January; however, we are already witnessing changes to the Indiana Department of Education that are making an impact.

Communications from the department have been streamlined so that information is clear and concise. The department has been reorganized so that local districts have a better understanding of who to contact when issues arise. Among many other initiatives, the department has been active at the Statehouse during this legislative cycle conducting advocacy efforts on behalf of the boys and girls who are educated in Indiana.

My opinion of Dr. McCormick is strong, and I believe that she was the right choice for leading the Indiana Department of Education.

I also believe that the ability of the voter to choose their state superintendent of public instruction is significantly important. Unfortunately, there have been recent efforts at the Statehouse to take away the right of the voters to elect their state superintendent of public instruction. This effort recommends that the position becomes one that is appointed by the governor. This concerns me for several reasons.

The argument has been made that the work of the Indiana Department of Education would be more efficient and would get more things done if the position was appointed. The rationale is that if the governor can appoint the state superintendent of public instruction, then their thinking would be aligned on issues and “politics” wouldn’t get in the way of moving the department forward.

I believe that this reasoning is flawed. One of the great foundations of our democracy is the ability for individuals with opposing viewpoints to work together to make an even better initiative happen. An appointed state superintendent of public instruction will increase partisan politics in the business of education. Our students, educators and community deserve better.

I am terribly concerned that any time voters are stripped of their ability to make their voice heard at the voting booth, we are losing a piece of democracy. Interestingly, no one is calling for any other offices at the Statehouse to be changed to one that is appointed. Why this one?

Arguments have been made that Indiana is a state of only nine who elect their superintendent of public instruction and we need to do what the majority of states are already doing. I believe the people of Indiana are smarter than this line of thinking.

There have been periods of time where I haven’t agreed with the individuals holding the office and there have been periods of time when I have; however, on every occasion, I knew that the majority of voters supported the individual who was placed in that office. Because of that, they had earned the ability to lead. And if they didn’t lead well, they would be given the ultimate performance review during the next election.

Our legislators are engaged in important work during this legislative cycle. They have an exhaustive docket of bills up for consideration and I sincerely appreciate their efforts, even when their decision-making process might result in something counter to my opinion. It’s genuinely an incredible experience to go to the Statehouse and watch the legislative process in action. It is our sincere hope that the process will result in legislation that is positive for public school education. It is my sincere hope that the position of state superintendent is left for Indiana voters to decide.

Legislators, our voters have the right to be heard regarding the position of state superintendent of public instruction. It will be a sad occasion for our democratic process should this right be taken away.

Laura Hammack is superintendent of Brown County schools. She can be reached at 812-988-6601 or lhammack@browncountyschools.com.