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Ritz vs. McCormick is the 2016 showdown for Indiana state superintendent

Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick accepts the nomination for Indiana state superintendent at the Indiana GOP Convention.
Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick accepts the nomination for Indiana state superintendent at the Indiana GOP Convention.

Yorktown school Superintendent Jennifer McCormick today was named the Republican choice to challenge incumbent Democrat Glenda Ritz in the November election for state superintendent at Indiana’s GOP convention in Indianapolis.

McCormick, who has been backed by supporters of Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, since she announced her plan to run in January, only faced one challenger at the convention: Dawn Wooten, an English instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne.

Despite a flyer circulated Friday by Wooten’s team highlighting McCormick’s sometimes Democratic voting history in Delaware County, McCormick was the crowd favorite after speeches by both and won easily, taking 1,030 votes to Wooten’s 574.

McCormick said Ritz was a poor leader and manager of the Indiana Department of Education. In her place, McCormick promised to “establish a vision that promises a world class education.”

“Currently, we have a Department of Education that lacks leadership and vision,” McCormick said, “and, when you have that, things become disorganized and disconnected from the local level.”

McCormick was a favorite of party leaders going in because of her background as an educator and school leader. She has been a teacher, principal and superintendent. She will need to capitalize on those strengths in the fall against Ritz, who is popular with educators.

“Indiana students deserve a state superintendent with proven and successful K-12 leadership,” McCormick said. “And I am the only candidate running in either party with that experience.”

McCormick has a doctorate in educational leadership from Indiana State University and has been superintendent in Yorktown, near Muncie, for five years. The district has been rated an A for six straight years, primarily for high test scores.

Ritz is one of fewer than 200 Indiana teachers to earn National Board certified teachers, a challenging credential, and served as both a regular and special education teacher before finishing her classroom experience as an elementary school librarian. She also was president of the teachers union in Washington Township, one of the state’s largest.

McCormick will try to repeat the stunning success Ritz had in 2012, by beating a high profile incumbent seeking re-election. Ritz, a political unknown, was given little chance against Bennett, who had become a national school reform darling for pushing school choice, tougher teacher evaluation and more school accountability in his term in office.

Despite being massively outspent by Bennett, Ritz built a sophisticated word-of-mouth campaign that utilized union contacts, educator networks and skillful social media techniques to build a winning coalition.

Among the issues McCormick is expected to challenge Ritz on big issues from her term, like changes to state academic standards and ISTEP testing. But Ritz’s campaign spokeswoman Annie Mansfield today touted her announcement last week of a plan to expand preschool to make it available to all Indiana children.

“Ritz has maintained a focus on establishing universal pre-K, providing adequate funding for all public schools and investing in high-quality teachers,” Mansfield said

She said Ritz’s team expected McCormick’s nomination.

“Gov. (Mike) Pence has been attacking Superintendent Ritz for the past four years, so it’s no surprise that his handpicked candidate would launch her campaign by doing the same,” Mansfield said.

Ritz, who had no primary challengers, will be formally nominated along with gubernatorial candidate John Gregg at next weekend’s Democratic convention.

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