Gov. Eric Holcomb will appoint Katie Jenner as Indiana’s first-ever appointed education secretary. Holcomb announced his pick for the state’s top school official in a statement Thursday.
Jenner currently serves as the governor’s senior education advisor – a position she’s held throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She also serves as a member of the governor’s teacher compensation commission. The group is expected to make recommendations for lawmakers and the governor to consider as they address teacher pay during the 2021 legislative session.
Jenner has worked as a career and technical education teacher in Kentucky, and as a school and district administrator for Madison Consolidated Schools in Indiana.
She also has worked as the vice president of K-12 initiatives and statewide partnerships at Ivy Tech Community College.
Jenner will take on the role of education secretary starting January 11, 2021, replacing current Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick.
According to the release announcing her transition into the role, Jenner’s priorities as education secretary will include: supporting schools through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, providing and strengthening school and career pathways for students, supporting teachers, and creating a “future-ready” education system.
What Hoosiers Are Saying
Shortly after the governor’s announcement, congratulations and messages of support poured in from lawmakers, school leaders, and education organizations all over the state.
Indiana’s Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said in a statement Jenner’s background in K-12 and higher education make her well suited for the job.
“Katie Jenner has been a valuable voice for K-12 schools as the Governor’s senior education advisor. She recognizes the importance of aligning Indiana’s entire system of education, from preschool to higher education and the workforce,” Lubbers said in the statement.
Lawmakers, including House Speaker Todd Huston, Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, and House Education Committee chair Bob Behning also shared messages of support.
“Dr. Katie Jenner brings a vast array of education experience, including serving in the classroom, school administration and higher education. She’s a great pick to fill this important role,” Huston said in his statement.
Bray called Jenner a “fantastic choice.”
“Dr. Jenner is a highly qualified, dedicated, passionate educator, and I know she will serve our state and all of our students, teachers and schools well as she steps into the role of our state’s first-ever secretary of education,” Bray said in his statement.
Behning praised Jenner’s experience and said it will be valuable as schools and families continue grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Indiana Chamber said in a statement it has long-supported making Indiana’s education leader an appointed role, and that Jenner’s experience working with employers to better align K-12 education with workforce needs is particularly exciting.
“That’s a big positive for our business community, which requires homegrown talent. It also helps ensure that young people are prepared to pursue relevant and prosperous careers,” said Jason Bearce, Indiana Chamber vice president of education and workforce development, in a statement.
School leaders and key education groups from across the state also offered their reactions to Jenner being selected for the job. The Indiana State Teachers Association said in a statement Jenner’s K-12 teaching and administration experience is “critical,” and that it looks forward to continuing working with Jenner to support teachers and invest in public schools.
The union had pushed for the state to include certain qualifications when lawmakers made the role an appointed one, to ensure whoever took on the job had experience working and teaching in K-12 schools.
Other groups sent messages on Twitter offered their congratulations, including the Indiana State Principals Association, Stand for Children Indiana, the Indiana Non-Public Education Association and Teach Plus Indiana.
Support for Jenner as the state’s next top school official also came from school reform group leaders, like The Mind Trust’s CEO Brandon Brown and Kevin Teasley, president of Indianapolis-based Geo Academies charter school network.
How Indiana Got Here
Discussions and attempts to appoint the state’s top education official have gone on for more than a decade. At different times, both Republicans and Democrats have supported the idea as part of their platform.
The idea gained traction after the 2008 election. That’s when political fighting over the superintendent position began shortly after Republican Tony Bennett took office.
Bennett, with backing by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican majority in the Statehouse, pushed through a series of far-reaching reforms that transformed the state’s education system. Creating a private school voucher program, expanding charter schools and the state’s letter grade accountability scale were some of Bennett’s accomplishments.
But labor unions, many traditional public school teachers and Democrat lawmakers opposed Bennett’s agenda. Then in 2012, Democrat Glenda Ritz ousted Bennett in a longshot bid to become education chief.
Within a year, former-Gov. Mike Pence and Ritz were attracting national attention for their public arguments over state policy, federal funding and academic standards. Ritz accused Pence of “not seeking a power-grab, but rather a complete takeover” of state education policy after he formed a new education agency by executive order to support his appointees on the State Board of Education. Around this time, lawmakers began discussing the idea of giving the governor power to appoint the state’s superintendent of public instruction.
Then in 2016, Yorktown Community Schools Superintendent McCormick beat Ritz.
During McCormick’s campaign, she criticized Ritz for the public arguments with Pence and other state leaders.
Despite sharing party affiliation with Holcomb, McCormick began to diverge from Republican-supported education issues, as she criticized charter schools and the state’s school accountability model.
In 2017, House Speaker Brian Bosma was leading the charge that the governor should appoint the top education official. The General Assembly then made it official, with the change to an appointed education secretary happening by 2025, in part to allow McCormick to seek reelection.
This story has been updated.