By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz stopped short of commenting on the recent maelstrom of news surrounding Tony Bennett, the man she unseated as superintendent last November.
She did, however, say she was "dismayed" about having to now do three jobs, referencing a recent investigation into Bennett's tenure, an overhaul of Bennett's changes and implementation of her own system.
Ritz spoke to a crowd of about 200 supporters on Saturday at the United Auto Workers Local 663's open house, but focused more on her own goals for state education reform.
After losing to Ritz last year, Bennett moved on to become education commissioner in Florida. But last week, he resigned from that position on the heels of a release of emails that show him insisting on improving a performance grade for a charter school he had touted.
Bennett has denied any wrongdoing, but Ritz said on Wednesday her administration had confirmed manipulation of the charter school's A-F grade — a rating system Bennett pushed for during his administration.
"(Stepping down) was his choice, and that's all there is to say about that," Ritz said.
The A-F grading scale for schools is one of the Bennett reforms Ritz spoke most sharply about changing.
"I want an assessment model with no ceiling so we can truly understand where our students stand," the superintendent said. "I want a strong system of equity and high quality for every student, and a big part of that is a strong system of public education."
Ritz also announced the creation of an outreach program for public schools around the state, which will be modeled after her own superintendent election campaign and be heavily community- and "grassroots"-oriented. The program will feature 14 outreach education service centers around the state, which will be organized by leading educators in each area.
"And we'll work with local leaders and superintendents about how this will be implemented and look for solutions," Ritz said.
While Ritz declined comment on Bennett, other speakers, union members and leaders didn't shy away from criticizing him. Union President Jim Hensley, who planned the Ritz visit months ago before the controversy, said Bennett is getting what he deserves.
"I think he should eventually end up in prison, but I think the resignation is fine for now," Hensley said.
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