INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has tapped his senior education adviser to serve as the state’s first secretary of education, marking the first time in more than a century that the state school supervisor’s supervisory position is not determined by voters.
Katie Jenner will officially take on the role on January 11, after current head of public instruction Jennifer McCormick leaves office. Jenner will immediately focus on helping schools navigate the coronavirus pandemic in addition to formulating the state’s policy on education, school responsibilities and testing, according to the governor’s office.
“This is an incredibly important time for education in Indiana,” Holcomb said in a statement Thursday. “(Jenner) has focused her entire career on investing in students, teachers, and staff, and she will continue to build the relationships that are necessary to move our state forward in constructive ways. “
Under new state law, the state school principal was removed from the vote in November. Instead, an education secretary – largely responsible for implementing and administering policy – is elected by the governor. Unlike the elected head of state, the secretary of education reports directly to Holcomb as a member of the cabinet.
The shift to a secretary of state appointed by a governor was originally approved by the Indiana General Assembly with a scheduled start date in 2025. Legislators passed legislation last year to move the change up to 2021 after McCormick announced she would not seek another period in 2020.
Less than two weeks before the November election, however, McCormick changed his position and accepted a nomination button from Democratic state candidate Woody Myers to ensure “continuity” within the state’s education department, especially in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Her “rebellion” over “sadly underfunded” teachers and schools across the state also affected her desire to stay on the subject, she said.
McCormick’s affiliation with Myers and Democrats during her tenure revealed her split from Holcomb and GOP legislators since she was elected state school inspector in 2016 with the support of the Republican Party. She has disagreed with Republican lawmakers on several education issues, including the use of standardized tests to assess schools and teachers, and her support for increased control of charter and coupon schools that receive state funding.
McCormick has accepted a position as senior vice president of EES Analytics, a data analytics firm starting in January, according to a Wednesday press release.
Until now, Holcomb had been quiet about any nomination elections, and he said earlier that he would wait to review the recommendations until after election day.
Jenner has previously served as vice president of Ivy Tech Community College. She also worked as a career and technical education teacher in Kentucky and as an administrator for the Madison Consolidated Schools in Indiana. Currently, Jenner is also on the governor’s commission, which is tasked with making recommendations on how to improve teachers’ salaries.
“My priorities are to ensure high quality education for all students and families and to provide solution-focused support to our teachers and education leaders,” Jenner said in a statement Thursday. “We have great opportunities ahead in Indiana, and I can not wait to roll up my sleeves and work hand in hand with students, educators, and stakeholders across the state. ”
Jason Bearce, Indiana Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Workforce Education and Development, said Jenner’s past roles are “very positive” for business and will help ensure that younger Hoosiers “are prepared to pursue relevant and prosperous careers.”
“The Indiana Chamber has long supported making Indiana’s top education officer a designated position, so the governor has someone tailored to his political priorities in such a key role,” Bearce said in a statement Thursday. “The improved level of collaboration and collaboration will make the state’s educational direction clear and allow for more effective action on behalf of Indiana students.”
Casey Smith is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.