Originally published Dec. 17, 2012.
Huntington County Community School teacher Cari Whicker says if she is going to take the bus, she'd rather drive than ride - a philosophy that has landed her a position serving on the state board for the Indiana Department of Education.
Whicker has been teaching in Huntington County for 16 years. Fifteen of those years have been spent working in Huntington, with the past 14 years spent at Riverview Middle School, where she has been teaching language arts to sixth-graders.
Whicker says she loves teaching sixth grade.
She says her students are "still sweet and innocent, yet independent."
Throughout her employment at Riverview, Whicker has been involved in piloting their single gender classes, has served as a team leader and has been part of the school corporation's scope and sequence board.
In 2005 Whicker was asked to sit on the board for what was formerly known as TRF - Indiana's Teacher Retirement Fund. She served on that board for six and a half years, and also spent time on the PERF - Public Employees Retirement Fund - board until the two boards merged together as INPRS, the Indiana Public Retirement System.
In February 2012, Whicker applied to an opening on the state board for the Department of Education. She says she was accepted to the board in March, and she attributes her acceptance to the case she says she made for herself.
The board is required to have four "educationalists" serving, and Whicker says when she applied there were no middle school teachers serving on the board. She says she sold herself on the platform that it is imperative for the board to hear the perspective of a teacher who is preparing her students to take the ISTEP+ tests - the tests that are the basis for the school grades determined annually by the department.
"I have no fantasy that I am the best. I am not the best teacher, I am not the best politician, I am not the best at investing. I think I was chosen because I am a good representative of all these things."
She is currently serving on the board with the nine other board members - one representative from each of Indiana's 10 congressional districts.
She says her term will end in 2014 when Governor Mike Pence will either decide to renew her position or the board will look for someone to take her place.
Whicker says she spends at least two hours per day working on things for the department of education.
"It's not a lot of glory for a lot of work," she says of her position.
The state board for the department of education is responsible for policy making, monitoring school performance and authorizing the distribution of money to schools.
"There is a sense of responsibility to the students," Whicker says of the purpose she feels the board fills.
Currently, the board is directed by Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett. However, Bennett was voted out of office in the November 2012 elections and will be replaced by Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz.
Whicker says that Bennett was pro-reform and had the support of Governor Mitch Daniels.
After Jan. 1, 2013 Ritz will head the board, and a new governor, Mike Pence, will take office.
Whicker says she feels the transition will be "interesting," and says, "This changes the dynamics of everything."
"I am interested to hear what her (Ritz) goals are and how she expects to accomplish them," Whicker says.
Whicker says she will meet Ritz next week to discuss what the future holds.
But, she says, no matter what happens, the members of the board have "respect" for each other. Whicker points out that each member recognizes the "care, time and energy" it takes to serve on the state board.
Whicker says she is proud of her accomplishments thus far, and she is happy to be "a player instead of a watcher," when it comes to influencing education.
The department's website is www.doe.in.gov, where more information can be found about the department, its role and what new topics are trending.