NEW PALESTINE — As a former librarian, Glenda Ritz knows a thing or two about how to find the right books for children.
The state superintendent of Public Instruction brought three of her favorites to Sugar Creek Elementary School on Tuesday to share with a class of fourth-graders.
A few weeks ago, Deb Weiler’s students were looking into some of the learning standards they’ll face next year in fifth grade when they stumbled upon Ritz’s “Hoosier Family of Readers” program.
The students decided it would be a good idea to invite the state superintendent to their class to discuss the reading program and more.
“We just invited her to come in and share,” Weiler said. “I’ve been to different venues to hear her speak after we elected her. I never would have thought she’d come out here, but, she said ‘yes.’”
Weiler and a handful of students greeted Ritz in the school’s front office and then quickly escorted her to their classroom, where she was met with cheers.“My goodness! Applause!” Ritz said, before taking a spot in front of the class to read the books to the students.
Following her presentation, Ritz answered questions from the students, including one from fourth-grader Garrett Roberts who asked Ritz what was the first thing she did once she got into office.
Ritz, who was elected in 2012 by defeating incumbent superintendent Tony Bennett, said her first task was to implement the Hoosier Family of Readers. It was designed to get children interested in reading yearround, particularly during summer.
“I did that before I took office,” Ritz said. “I pulled together a group of people who really care about kids reading, and we have over 260 partners in the state that are helping students have access to reading materials.”
The program runs from June 1 through the end of July and encourages students to go online and try out some of the 3,500 free books available to them.
“A reader is not a person who can read, it’s a person who does read,” Ritz said.
Her goal was to get students to commit to reading at least 20 minutes every day with their reading family at home or with friends at the local library.
“Twenty minutes is not very long,” Ritz said.
Sharing her love for reading with students is her favorite thing about being the state superintendent, she said. But, when asked what was the toughest part about her job, Ritz was also direct.
“It’s taking the politics out of education,” Ritz said. “Sometimes people want to pass laws and make rules that may not be the best thing for schools, and I want to make sure I am always doing the best thing for schools.”
She told the students the reason she wanted to become state superintendent is because she wanted less testing and more teaching in the classrooms.
Ritz also explained to the students how she worked on broad education policy and not on things that happen specifically in the classroom.
“I’m just down the corridor from the governor,” Ritz said, while showing the fourth–graders a photo of her office.
Following her time with the students, Ritz elaborated on her goals and said despite opposition from the state school board and the powers at be the Department of Education, she has had a productive year.
“We’ve gotten quite a bit done,” Ritz said. “We’ve got the Hoosier Family Readers up and running, and I’ve got the outreach program going.”
She said the outreach program was created for coordinators around the state to service failing and troubled schools at the ground level and help them improve.
Ritz said she is also pleased education officials have been able to move forward with state standards and assessments.
“My department has been very busy, and I feel very good about the year,” Ritz said.
While she acknowledged she will always face barriers with politics being involved in education, she said her job as an educator is to try and minimize that and to let people know she is more interested in what is best for the classroom.
“People should be excited that for the first time we have college and career-readiness standards,” Ritz said. “For the first time Indiana involved higher education and career experts in actually looking at our standards ... So we’ve accomplished a great deal and are moving in a good direction.”