Indiana’s first secretary of education will be Holcomb adviser Katie Jenner

Katie Jenner will serve as Indiana’s first secretary of education. 

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the appointment Thursday. Jenner has been serving as Holcomb’s senior education adviser for the last year. 

“This is an incredibly important time for education in Indiana,” Holcomb said in a news release. “Dr. Katie Jenner has focused her entire career on investing in students, teachers and staff, and she will continue to build the relationships needed to move our state forward in constructive ways.”

Katie Jenner was named Indiana's first Secretary of Education on Nov. 19, 2020.

Jenner began her career as a career and technical education teacher in Kentucky in 2005, according to the news release. From 2009 to 2018, she worked for Madison Consolidated Schools in Indiana as a school administrator and district administrator. In 2018, she joined Ivy Tech Community College as vice president of K-12 initiatives and statewide partnerships. 

“I am grateful for the opportunity to further serve the people of Indiana,” Jenner said in the news release. “My priorities are to ensure high quality education for all students and families, and to provide solution-focused support for our teachers and educational leaders. We have great opportunity ahead in Indiana, and I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and work hand in hand with students, educators and stakeholder partners across the state.”

This is the first time Indiana’s top education official has been appointed, rather than elected. The Indiana General Assembly passed a law in 2017 to transition the position from elected to appointed, but set the transition date at 2025. After the current superintendent of public instruction, Jennifer McCormick, announced she would not seek a second term, lawmakers accelerated the timeline to 2021. 

McCormick has accepted a position as senior vice president with EES Analytics, a data analytics company that will launch in January and work with school districts on unique learning plans for individual students, according a news release.

Many state education officials and organizations issued statements of support Thursday after the announcement, including the Indiana State Teachers Association. Keith Gambill, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union representing about 40,000 educators, said he looked forward to working with Jenner in her new role. 

“As the governor’s Senior Education Advisor, Dr. Jenner is someone ISTA has worked with on several education issues,” Gambill said. “Her experience in K-12 education as a teacher and administrator is critical experience ISTA sought for Indiana’s first Secretary of Education.”

Not all teachers are sold on Jenner, though. Some are worried about her relative lack of teaching experience. Jenner only spent four years in a Kentucky classroom before moving into administration. 

Morgan Kohler, a senior at Butler University studying elementary and special education, worries that her lack of experience teaching in Indiana will create a disconnect between the education department and educators. 

“As a future Indiana teacher, it completely matters,” Kohler said. “Our struggles here in Indiana are completely different than the struggles in other states. How are you supposed to properly fight for the teachers if you don’t know what they are going through?”

Some, though, said where she taught mattered less. It was more about her relationship with teachers or her policy positions. McCormick has come out as a fierce advocate for the state’s public school teachers and earned their support in return. It sometimes meant, though, being at odds with Holcomb and some of his appointees to the State Board of Education.

Now that Holcomb gets to choose his education chief, discord between his office and the department seems less likely. 

Jenner will lead the Indiana Department of Education and serve on the State Board of Education. According to the release, her top priorities will be supporting schools through the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure all students have a path to success, attracting more Hoosiers to the teaching profession and cultivating a “future-ready” education system. 

Her term begins Jan. 11, 2021. 

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.