Whether talking about educators, students, schools or programs, Edmond and Deer Creek public school districts stood out from others in the state in 2019.
Two educators, one from Edmond and one from Deer Creek, were named finishers in the top 12 outstanding teachers in the state while Deer Creek’s Middle School teacher continued on to be selected the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.
While the Teacher of the Year announcement topped our list as the number 1 education story for 2019, there were other stories which were in the running. They include a story on teachers throughout the state receiving pay increases while Edmond teachers received additional amounts from the Edmond School Board making them one of the highest paid districts in the state.
We also look back on stories where Edmond students were encouraged to “Think Before You Post” — an initiative presented by Edmond Police officers at all Edmond middle schools. Area schools raised record-breaking amounts to help local non-profits, and Deer Creek Public Schools was asking parents and patrons to become partners in building the Deer Creek Transition Center to meet the needs of students with special needs.
BEST OF THE BEST
Edmond area teachers rose to the top of outstanding teachers in the state in 2019.
Edmond’s Cara Bowerman was the Edmond Public Schools Teacher of the Year while Jena Nelson was named the Deer Creek Public Schools Teacher of the Year. Both teachers ended in the top 12 finalists for Oklahoma’s Teachers of the Year, and Nelson went on to be selected the 2020 Teacher of the Year representing Oklahoma’s teachers.
A 14-year educator, Nelson teaches 7th and 8th grade English composition and Academic Enhancement at Deer Creek Middle School. Nelson openly spoke about past childhood trauma and how it influenced her future.
“I have done things that I never imagined, and it’s all because teachers believed in me. That is why I am in the classroom today. I’m here to give what was given to me — a chance,” she said.
Nelson was chosen by a panel of judges from 12 finalists who were Teachers of the Year for their district. Each teacher submitted a video as part of the application process.
Bowerman has taught visual arts at Edmond North High School in Edmond Public Schools for six years and also serves as the head coach of North’s Girls’ Cross Country and Track.
“In the classroom, Cara has created an atmosphere of trust and creativity where her students thrive and feel safe,” said Edmond North Principal Debreon Davis. “She takes the time to build relationships with each student she encounters and believes in giving students a fresh start every day.”
Bowerman started her teaching career at Edmond North. When she began, she was still healing from multiple fractures she sustained in a car accident when a driver going twice the speed limit hit her broadside. Having had to relearn how to walk following the accident, it was her students who gave her the motivation to press on through the daily pain.
“The doctor healed my broken bones, but my students healed me. And that is why I am a teacher,” Bowerman said in her teacher portfolio. “Every step I took down the halls of Edmond North High School, the stronger I got.”
2. Teachers, support personnel
earn salary increases
State teachers fought for themselves and won when the state passed a $1,220 pay increase for all teachers. The increase brought Oklahoma to number one in the region in teacher pay and helped address the statewide teacher shortage.
Even though Edmond Public Schools currently pays $3,000 above the state minimum teacher salary, teachers will be among those seeing the $1,220 raise, said Edmond Supt. Bret Towne.
“Without any additional funds being added, this would bring the starting salary for a teacher in Edmond to $41,220,” Towne said.
Later the district and the Edmond Association of Classroom Teachers (EACT) came to an agreement on teacher raises which provides first-year certified teachers a starting salary of $41,745.
Towne went on to say the raise applies to all certified personnel, including teachers, administrators (not the superintendent), nurses, counselors, library media staff, and speech pathologists.
Rep. Nicole Miller went on to say an additional $74 million will go directly into classrooms to provide for the needs of the teachers and students.
In August when the raises were initially approved, benefits such as health, life and disability insurance, and district-paid retirement contributions pushed a first-year teacher’s total compensation and benefits to $52,374.
The state legislated $1,220 salary increase for teachers, approved in May 2019, plus additional raises allocated by the district, means that the salary for a first-year Edmond teacher at that time was 14% above the state minimum starting salary of $36,601. Veteran teachers also received raises. For example, a teacher with 10 years experience and a bachelor’s degree is now making a base salary of $46,370 in 2019-2020 compared to the 2018-2019 base salary of $44,625. Total compensation and benefits for that teacher are $57,809.
The total cost of the certified compensation package over and above the legislated pay increase was just over $2 million. Edmond Schools also pays the entire retirement contribution for all of its employees.
“Edmond Schools is pleased to work with our employees to provide highly competitive compensation and benefits,” said Superintendent Bret Towne. “Increases in compensation, along with the addition of more than 120 new teaching positions to reduce class sizes, and expanding site budgets are all part of the Board of Education’s commitment to support staff and student’s needs.”
Additionally, the district plans to provide raises to support personnel. The district added more than $1 million in local funds to the tentative agreement with Support Employees of Edmond (SEE). In all, the district provided an additional $5.6 million in employee compensation during the 2019 summer negotiation process with both EACT and SEE.
3. Students learn to use
electronic communications responsibly
For the second year, Edmond Public Schools invited Edmond police officers to speak to students about the dangers and consequences of irresponsible electronic communication. Officers visited all six middle schools Dec. 3-12 to teach students about their digital footprint, how to responsibly report any safety concerns they view on social media, and the repercussions of posting or reposting false information.
Edmond’s “Think Before you Post” initiative mirrors the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s campaign which was launched after the FBI experienced a spike in hoax threats in the aftermath of the deadly shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Since the start of the 2019-2020 school year, two Edmond students have been arrested for making erroneous safety threats toward schools.
“The time, focus and energy it takes to fully investigate each threat drains school and law enforcement resources and creates unwarranted anxiety and panic for parents,” said Associate Superintendent Dr. Debbie Bendick.
Police spoke to students about how to share legitimate information about a potentially unsafe school situation and why embellishing or fabricating information can have serious consequences that can include criminal charges.
Students will learn more about the “Think Before you Post” initiative in their classrooms, school social media platforms and on school websites.
“We hope the visibility of the campaign will encourage parents and guardians to talk to their children about the appropriate use of their personal devices and social media tools and apps available to them. We take very seriously the safety of our students and hope that this initiative will enhance the partnership we enjoy with our students’ parents as we work together to protect them,” Bendick said.
4. Students look beyond themselves,
break fund-raising records
The three Edmond high schools — Memorial, North and Santa Fe — have been raising money for philanthropies in the Oklahoma City area since Memorial had the first fundraiser to raise money for a young girl. Rules changed over the years, but as each new high school was opened, the student body (led by the student councils) started raising money for worthwhile tax-exempt organizations.
Deer Creek High School and Oklahoma Christian School joined the fundraising efforts and 2019 saw the five high schools raise a record breaking $1,813,736.16 which included a $500,000 anonymous donation at one of the schools.
Edmond students have been raising money for others since 1986 when a small group of Edmond Memorial High School Student Council members decided that they wanted to make a difference in their school and community. They wanted to raise money for a little girl who was in need of a kidney transplant. The students approached the principal, who supported the endeavor and even agreed to kiss a pig if they reached their total of $2,000. When they did, Swine Week was born.
Since then close to $7 million has been raised for philanthropic ventures by Memorial students. In 2019 Memorial students raised a history breaking $587,952 for Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County with the theme of “Dr. Sooie.” The money was given to Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County.
North High School Student Council members chose The CARE Center in Oklahoma City to receive their fundraising efforts. As they began BALTO (Bring a Light to Others) Week, they used Star Wars as their fundraising theme.
They helped “Rex find his ROAR” with their out of the world fundraising which brought in $286,052. An additional one-time gift from an anonymous donor of $500,000, made the total amount raised during BALTO Week jump to $786,052. Since 2001, BALTO Week has raised more than $2 million.
With the theme “It’s What You Do for Others” Santa Fe High School Student Council members donated $234,225 to The Anna’s House Foundation during their DWDW (Double Wolf Dare Week). Since 1996 DWDW has raised $3,288,632.
Pivot — A Turning Point for Youth will also receive benefit from this event as the organization is the Common Thread charity for Edmond Public Schools. It will receive 5% of the total amount raised by the three schools. Pivot Inc. is a nonprofit community organization that works with young people lacking stability in housing, basic needs, education, employment, life skills, and therapeutic care through advocating, educating, intervening and counseling youth and families to make a positive difference in their lives.
With a theme this year of Antler Arcade, Deer Creek High School Student Council members led the school in raising $159,095 as well as awareness for their WWF (Wonderful Week of Fundraising). Monies raised went to The Hugs Project. Since 2001 more than $854,000 has been raised for charities and individuals in need through the generosity of Deer Creek High School and the Deer Creek community.
Oklahoma Christian School students helped community non-profits as well as Christian organizations around the world during their annual H.E.R.O.E.S. (Hands Extended Reflecting Our Exalted Savior) Week. The students raised $46,412.16 for Anna’s House, a Christian, faith-based organization. The mission of Anna’s House is to provide immediate, stable and loving homes for Oklahoma County’s children in state custody. AHF offers a future of hope and faith to foster children and foster families by providing housing, support, training and resources in a community setting
5. Deer Creek asks community
to partner in leaving a legacy
Deer Creek School Board members are planning the Deer Creek Transition Center — a model transition center for students with special needs. And they are going about it in a creative way. They are asking for donations from patrons and community partners rather than asking local residents to pass a bond issue.
They are asking for partners to help them to improve the lives of special needs student in Deer Creek as they transform learning opportunities in public education, decrease dependence on federal benefits, and increase graduation retention rates as well as employment rates.
Plans are to serve as a catalyst training ground for districts throughout the state to follow, impacting special needs students throughout the state as well as those who teach and volunteer.
By providing a support system and career planning for students with physical and developmental disabilities, administration and board members plan to help the special needs students achieve self-determination and reach full inclusion in all facets of community life.
Through DCTC, the students will learn to live and work independently, improve their quality of life, and ensure they can be active and contributing members of their community with minimal or no assistance.
All funds donated will go directly towards construction and implementation of the DCTC, and will be a catalyst for fund-matching opportunities from local and regional donors. Any funds received beyond the requested amount will be used for maintenance of the facility and ongoing supplies, materials and competitive events. The hope is to begin construction on the complex as soon as possible. It will include a simulated home dwelling, classroom area, work simulation area, as well as a food truck.