In this current era, the last thing you would think to see is an elected Democratic touring with an elected Republican. In a state like Indiana that historically has been a red state with the former State Governor now serving as Vice President of the United States, Indiana is the last place you probably thought you would see such thing. If there is an issue that could unite two opposing parties, it would be education.
Education has joined two individuals from different parties. Current Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick shocked many people when she agreed to go on a statewide education tour with potential gubernatorial candidate State Senator Eddie Melton. In a joint statement released, Dr. McCormick said, “Indiana needs more statewide leaders who value the voices of practitioners and community stakeholders as demonstrated by Sen. Eddie Melton.” It comes as a surprise and has many people wondering if Dr. McCormick is auditioning for a party swap and lieutenant governor nominee on the Democrat ticket in 2020. What I see is an educator putting aside often petty political loyalty and focusing on what is most important, the children.
I had the opportunity to attend Eddie Melton and Dr. Jennifer McCormick’s first stop on their Hoosier Community Conversation. The event in Indianapolis was attended by roughly 100 people, many of whom represented current teachers, retired teachers, school superintendents, and school board members. The focus of the conversation was for the State Senator and potential Governor candidate to hear from the folks on the front line of education. I attended because I was both hopeful and little unsure about how this would work with a Democrat and Republican.
Quickly into the conversation, I could tell that the meaning of the discussion was genuine and one that was genuinely focused on hearing from the community. Sen. Melton was open about not being an educator and deferring the in-depth education questions to Dr. McCormick, which showed a sign on humility and honesty that you do not usually get from politicians. You could tell that the energy in the room was one of excitement about this unique partnership. You could also say that both Dr. McCormick and Sen. Melton were on the same page and many of their educational views aligned.
The topics presented in the conversation ranged from a charter school to public school debate (one of the questions I asked), teacher salaries, teacher diversity, school safety, and the enrollment scandal at the virtual school. As mentioned, I found myself in a room surrounded by educators that had a different view than the one I shared. The main topic centered on the idea of that many Democrats in the state of Indiana want to put a moratorium on charter schools. My thoughts on this, I will share in a later in another piece.
I did ask Senator Melton his thoughts on the bickering that happens between public charter and traditional public schools. I asked because I have worked in both settings. My entire career has been spent in the Education Reform Era. I know that many public-school advocates are also anti-charter folks. They believe charters are taking the dollars away from public schools. I felt there were many in the room looking at me, as a charter school principal, as the enemy. My question was simple, “How do we stop this bickering and focus on the children and not the school they attend?” I felt that my question went unanswered as the event proceeded, but I do hope that throughout these talks, the question continues to be asked and an answer is given. This is one of the most critical educational answers the Senator will be asked.
I believe the first stop of their tour was meaningful. There were some highs and some lows for me, but I felt that both Sen. Melton and Dr. McCormick listened and listened with a purpose, and I believed the other community members in the audience were heard.
Sen. Melton and Dr. McCormick are scheduled to continue their tour in Fort Wayne on July 15th.