OKLA. CITY —
Superintendents from four area school districts met with members of the Northwest Chamber of Commerce Wednesday at the new Northwest Library and shared their districts' achievements and challenges during the past year.
"Because good schools mean a well-prepared workforce, stable and prosperous neighborhoods, steady property values, and a positive, connected and committed community, the Northwest Chamber wanted to give local districts a chance to help us learn about their needs first hand," said Jill McCartney, Northwest Chamber president and CEO.
"We want to help local businesses connect directly and become more involved with working with the schools and supporting education." Superintendents from Putnam City, Bethany, Oklahoma City and Deer Creek public school districts took turns sharing information about their specific districts but all agreed that unfunded mandates by state and federal governments are becoming increasingly harder to implement within their districts and the teacher pool is dwindling in Oklahoma.
The superintendents share many of the same problems, and all shared ways they are using to help their students succeed in today's society and in tomorrow's workforce.
Putnam City Superintendent Paul Hurst told members that his district educates 19,000 students in 26 schools.
With the Common Core Curriculum being introduced teachers' energies are turned toward implementation of the 3Cs.
"We have to become more internationally competitive in the qualitative element of education and assessment which will be fully implemented in 2014-15," Hurst said.
The Putnam City District has chosen the Marzano Model to evaluate Teacher Leader Effectiveness, Hurst said.
"The Marzano Model takes thin slices of teacher behavior and with a more scientific observable approach (we believe) will improve teacher instruction," Hurst said. "The Marzano Model gives an opportunity for constant feedback and growth."
With the A-F grading system, Hurst said that legislatively there will be some tweaking some of the constructs.
"We want accountability that is creditable, reliable and fruitful," Hurst said.
With the all-day kindergarten legislation, Putnam City has gone from 900 half day to 1,100 full day Early Childhood students in four years.
"We have opened 11 classrooms for Early Childhood in shopping centers," Hurst said, "and in doing so we hope to become an economic anchor for those shopping centers."
Hurst said children need to have a readiness level to develop and teacher leaders are needed to help teach, reinforce, and implement the Common Core and Personal Learning Communities.
"When we assess learning data and develop common assessments it is important to make PLCs more effective to make a difference in the classroom," Hurst said.
Putnam City patrons recently passed a $6 million bond issue earmarked for technology, and Hurst said it is imperative to develop relationships with community resources.
"We have site-based social workers," Hurst said, "and when we have children and families that need help, we can give it to them."
Hurst added that there are many areas Oklahoma education could use legislative help. He added Oklahoma is one of 13 states that does not invest in after-school programs, and a longer school year is necessary.
He said with more and more student assessment being required, less time is spent actually educating students. He added an investment must be made in teacher preparation.
"With the number of teachers dwindling, we must have more teacher preparation, higher teacher pay in order to have more teacher retention and an extended school day," Hurst said.
"The last five years have seen flat or deficit spending or funding. We are seeing $440 less per child than in 2008, and that is not OK."
Hurst went on to add there is a need for the state to invest in the education of children. "It will take us $320 million to get back to where we were in 2008," Hurst said.
Bethany Public Schools Superintendent Kent Shellenberger said his 1,600 students fill three schools and his district's area is 1 square mile.
"We are unique in that we do not bus any of our school children," Shellenberger said. "We are also unique in that our district includes Southern Nazarene University, First Church of the Nazarene and The Children's Center.
"Our district serves between 75 to 100 children at The Children's Center," Shellenberger said.
Sequestration will affect Bethany School District in that there will be a 5 percent decrease in federal monies to spend for teachers in classrooms, teacher aides and instructional items.
"With State Question 766 passed in November, our concern is that in December there will be a loss of revenue," Shellenberger said.
Shellenberger said Oklahoma serves 650,000 students and more Native American students than any state, and without community involvement the district can not be great.
"We use students from Southern Nazarene University and members from the First Church of the Nazarene for our Bethany Tutorial," Shellenberger said. "We embrace accountability, but we just want the mandates to be funded as we put the mandates in place."
Karl Springer, Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent, heads a district of 84 schools with 43,000 students. There are 2,000 students homeless in the district and 92 percent, or 40,000 students, receive free and reduced lunches, Springer said.
"We use 140 Teach for America teachers in our schools and anticipate adding 75 additional teachers during the 2013-14 school year," Springer said. "We have employed 37 teachers from the University of Central Oklahoma's Urban Teacher Academy and during the next school year we hope to add 12-17 more. We are also talking with Southwestern Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma in addition to Oklahoma State University about starting similar programs."
Springer said the scale of poverty in Oklahoma City is so great and most people have no idea of how bad it is.
"With sequestration we will be operating on $1.5 million less in federal funds next year and most of those dollars go toward putting teachers in classrooms," Springer said. "The sky has not fallen, but it is getting cloudy."
Springer said the End of Instruction test scores are increasing. Using U.S. Grant High School as an example he said 16 percent were passing four years ago and last year 81 percent were passing and he has hopes that number will be at 90 percent this year.
"The Oklahoma City School District is really about children," Springer said. "Public education is adult centered, and it needs to be children centered. Decisions we make need to be in place for the children."
Springer said because of a shortage of teachers in Oklahoma, he has been recruiting teachers all over the United States as well as internationally with a recent hire interviewed by Skype.
"Our goal is to be able to put a quality teacher in every classroom, all 2,700 of them," Springer said. "We have a strong desire for our children to be successful."
In the changing face of what is a family including a growing number of single parent homes, many with the mother or grandparent at the head, Springer said he wants each child to be able to say they have one caring adult in their life, and many times that adult is a teacher.
"I would like to see a longer school day and more enrichment time is imperative," Springer said. "We need more time for music, art and the things that make us whole."
With only 100 days of instruction before the first testing either by state or end of year instruction, Springer said there needs to be more focus on instruction.
"I am passionate about our kids," Springer said.
Ranet Tippens, Deer Creek School District's recently hired superintendent, said Deer Creek epitomizes the school and the community.
"We are finishing up on the $142 million bond issue construction passed by our citizens," Tippens said, "and we are asking for an addition $5 million bond vote May 14. Those monies will finish up the Performing Arts Center, Spring Creek Elementary and the high school.
With a Late Start Wednesday program, Tippens explained how that time is used for Common Core Curriculum and PLCs.
"With increased funding needed for technology, it is one thing to require mandated tests, but without funding it is difficult for school districts to do," Tippens said.
She told the audience, "We are your best asset and you are ours. We are partners in making the world a better place. Our children need us and they need a public education."
Tippens said Deer Creek schools partner with the OU Health & Wellness program as they attempt to help the students overcome the stressors they experience each day.
FOR MORE information on the Northwest Chamber visit www.nwokc.com or call 405-789-1256.