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Monday, August 8, 2016

We're Not in Kansas, But...

We in #oklaed are embroiled in a heated election cycle that has seen educators and family members step up and run for office. We’ve seen some great candidates lose their primaries…we’ve seen some hold on and force run-off elections. We also see many candidates, education-friendly candidates, work toward the November general elections.

This new venture into the political arena has not been without controversy and strife. We advocates for public education have been mocked in news conferences and in print for the audacity of using our citizens’ voice to call for change. We sometimes feel like we’re alone in our efforts.

But we’re NOT. Kansas is also suffering under a Governor who seems intent on following Grover Norquist’s edict and drown state government in a bathtub. His legislature seems more than willing to help. I have an online teacher friend in KS, a fellow National Board Certified Teacher, a passionate educator and eclectic reader. Marsha Ratzel is a creative, innovative middle school science and math teacher, always looking for ways to incorporate technology and literature into her classroom. Marsha and I have never met face to face, but we stay in touch on several social media platforms. I love seeing pictures of her and her cute dog, and her new grandbaby gives us even more ways to bond. Marsha is a friend whose observations and insights I value. She pushes my thinking, and often offers clarity to my impulsiveness. I’ve watched and commiserated with Marsha about the destructive politics that are hurting public schools in both our states.  We both agree our roles as Grandmothers adds urgency to our advocacy work for schools and students.

Oklahoma had modest success in our primary elections – some wins, some run-offs. But I believe all candidates sat up and took notice of the issues we’ve been supporting.

Our success is nothing like what happened in Kansas last week.

Kansas’s primary election results were stunning. Ten incumbents were defeated (Three in Oklahoma didn’t make it though their primaries), including the Senate Majority Leader.  A US Congressman also lost his primary reelection bid. Analysis points to economic woes and support for public schools as reasons for the ‘revolt’.

On election day my friend Marsha proudly posted her selfie with her ‘I voted’ sticker. Then she posted her insights about her involvement in the election.  I pushed and asked questions, and she reflected, as a good National Board Certified Teacher will, and gave me gold.

I’m sharing Marsha’s strategies here, hoping we can find what works for us here in OK…what each of us would feel comfortable doing between now and November.  I’m going to share her words and strategies…with commentary.

“I looked hard for candidates that mirrored my K12 education vision.

“I looked for candidates that want to govern and that means something different than running a political campaign. Governing means, to my mind, listening and finding ways to compromise for the benefit of those you govern.

“I looked to defeat incumbents and candidates who were arrogant and who didn't line up with how I think KS kids deserve to be educated with adequate funding.

“I hope I worked hard to make sure all people knew when to vote, how to vote and where to vote.”

Marsha did what I hope we all are doing – she studied and researched. She took actions and words into consideration.  She chose the issues that were important to her. She used all the information she had, and she made choices.


Then what did she do?

“I asked friends to just give me 5 minutes and if they didn't want to hear me speak about it again....I was OK with that. No one thought I was a raving lunatic or unreasonable.
“I ask them to take action if they agreed. Some put signs in their front yards and that was it. Some thought they could speak to 1 or 2 other people. Some believed they could push others to just vote.

“It's the whole pebble in the water thing....if anyone can just start a ripple at their local level and influence a very small number of people to participate, I believe we will create a more representative democracy. And that is something we should all work hard to preserve and extend. “

She reached out and talked to friends. She engaged them in conversation. She shared her story and her concerns.

“I do think you have to be willing to tolerate/embrace people that you don't agree with..”

I so appreciate Marsha’s words and her approach. I’m reminded of  Tip O’Neill’s line: “All politics is local.” Marsha’s strategy was local. She spoke to friends and neighbors, people with whom she has relationships. She shared her concerns and she asked for their help.

We in OK still have two more elections to face. We can do what KS did. We can send a message that our students’ education is a priority for us, and we will find candidates who are ready to fund public education adequately.

Marsha again: “it was something I came to because I could look myself in the mirror and know I tried. Regardless of the ballot box results.
“I finally figured out that I win whenever I participate. But it is so much sweeter when the election aligns with my hopes.”

We’re not in Kansas. But we can do this too.  We need to do what Marsha did…research, look at issues. Engage friends and neighbors in conversation, ask for support, and then vote. Bring someone to the polls with you. Vote #oklaed.

I’m ready to elect education-friendly candidates. Are you?


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Momma Bears, Lion Prides, and #oklaed

When I started advocating for public education in a big way, I was still teaching and was concerned that my positions not reflect poorly on my school and district. I often ran my blogs by my principal and superintendent, reminding them if they didn’t like what I said, I could retire ‘tomorrow’. Because I was near the end of my long career, I felt very little pressure in being honest.

For a few years, I felt alone…that loudmouth in the wilderness. The crazy old lady who was screaming about the Superindentist and ALEC and Jeb Bush and Chiefs for Change. But a funny thing happened…I found my people. I found my army. I wasn’t alone any more. Others’ voices with their unique points of view joined. It was no longer one of those 'emailers', as one legislator said when I introduced myself to him. Now I was surrounded by principals, superintendents, teachers, and parents. We came from different political parties, or no party. We came from very different backgrounds, and we formed an army to protect our kids and our schools.

I am a member of the OPE board who helped form the infamous or helpful (depends on whether your favorites got apples) list of education-friendly candidates. I can tell you, conversation was lively as we looked at candidates’ stances on our issues, and their advocacy history over the past few years. There are other criteria as well, but that last one…showing up for #oklaed before candidate filing period…was key for me. I wanted to know candidates had advocated for public education and public schools before they decided to run for office, and that they had reached out to educators and legislators. They’d gone to the Capitol, engaged their legislators in conversation. That was the most important criteria for me.

I needed our list to be non-partisan. I needed to recognize Republicans and Democrats and Independents for their support. Our list does that. One day when I was at the Capitol last session, wearing my I-Heart-Public-Education, a Republican legislator came up to me and asked me to remember we had friends on both sides of the aisle. I assured him I watched voting records and I knew who supported #oklaed, and thanked him for that support.

Is our list perfect? No. Any candidate who wanted to be considered could easily contact any of us and make his or her case. We shared the criteria with several and if they responded, we looked it all over. This list is one group’s attempt to start the conversation. We expect voters to do their research and use our list as one piece of information in that research.

That brings me to the recent events surrounding the race for SD 41. There is a run off, if you haven’t heard.  Adam Pugh missed winning his primary outright by 8 votes, and is in a run-off with his closest rival, Paul Blair. Pugh is an apple; Blair is not.

Blair has taken a destructive path in his campaign which baffles me. This is his opportunity to make his case to the voters of Edmond. To tell them where he stands on the important issues in the campaign…to tell us how he views public education and our issues.

Instead, he’s chosen to attack OPE, and the administrator of Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education, Angela Little. He called a bogus press conference at the State Capitol to use FaceBook screen shots to prove…gasp…Angela has an opinion on the race. And a stance. And is working for Pugh. This former football player (who has started exactly two more NFL games in his short career with my beloved Bears than I have) used the press conference to attack a private citizen, a mother, a woman with an opinion. He attacked a young mother for working to elect legislators who would have her handsome sons’ best interest in mind every time he voted. He attacked a private citizen doing her civic duty: studying the issues, reading about the candidates, and making her choice.


The attacks didn’t end there…Daily Disappointment Oklahoman printed an opinion piece that Blair’s campaign misrepresented as an investigative piece. When I pointed that out on their campaign page, my remarks were deleted…wish I’d’ve thought to screen shot. Maybe Blair’s campaign can give me some lessons.

But there's more. Now we’ve seen flyers being distributed, again naming Angela and using her picture to prove…again, that a private citizen has an opinion and is willing to campaign for her own candidates.

Since when is it fair game for a candidate to attack private citizens who disagree? I thought it was my civic duty to study issues and candidates and make choices. I thought it was my civic duty to advocate, to explain my choices if I’ve made them public. I thought it was my civic right to campaign for my choices. I know Angela thought that. I know she didn’t expect to be vilified and mocked, to have her picture plastered on oversized posters at the Capitol, where she has tirelessly advocated for the students of Oklahoma.

If Blair wants to earn votes, let him lay out his campaign promises. Let him share his position on private school vouchers and school funding. Let him tell his voters what he stands FOR. And let him stop the vile attacks on a mother who is volunteering her time to all the students in our state.

Others have written in support of Angela, including Rick Cobb and BlueCerealEducation,  but I had to add my voice. That crazy old lady voice. Rob Reck likens her to a momma bear. That’s exactly how I feel about her. She’s my children’s age. She could be my other daughter. Don’t mess with my girl.

If Blair cannot campaign on his own merits, he doesn’t deserve the votes of the people of Edmond.


I’m going to use an image that Rob Miller often uses to remind us in #oklaed that what we do matters, and we do have that army I mentioned before.  Angela, we are here for you, just as you’re here for all our students.



Friday, July 15, 2016

The Good Senator, by Michelle Waters. Guest Post



Note: I am pleased to offer my blog to my friend, Michelle Waters, for a fiction piece she wrote...her own very successful Mrs. Waters English page is devoted to resources for ELA teachers, so we decided to debut her fiction here.

Michelle is a teacher, advocate, #FierceWomanofOklaed. She and I are administrators of the Reading for Pleasure -- Oklahoma FB page. She curates the #oklaed Twitter chat each Sunday, with our Storify verison available moments after our chat is finished. She's a candidate for National Board, which gives us the opportunity to spend more time together. She attended Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Institute this summer and this piece was inspired during that intensive three weeks of professional and personal growth.

I've read and enjoyed this satirical piece, and love the bite of truth and irony it delivers.



"The Good Senator" by Michelle Waters



Sen. Damien O’Brien considered throwing his cellphone out the darkly tinted window of his red Lexus. He grinned as he imagined the screen shattering across the pavement of Lincoln Boulevard and onto the lawn of the Oklahoma State Capitol.


After a moment, he sighed, dumped the phone into the passenger seat, ran a hand through his cropped, graying hair, and punched the gas pedal, chirping the tires as he speed onto 23rd street headed east. The woman on the other end of the phone continued jabbering through his hand-free system as he ground his teeth.


“You can’t just swallow their rhetoric,” she prattled on about her stance against the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection. “Our state has cut funding to public education more than any other state in the nation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Vouchers...”


“Education savings accounts...” he corrected, his voice monotone. He rolled his eyes as the light at Kelley Avenue turned red and he slammed his foot on the brake. He really didn’t have time for this. He’d just finished a legislative session, and thanks to those godforsaken education lobbyists and their union thugs, he didn’t get out of the building until after 5. He hoped traffic on I-35 would let him get to church on time. At 7, he was leading a Bible study that’d be broadcast around the world via the churches satellite and online sites. His topic tonight: The Good Samaritan and Social Justice. If more people would do the right thing, our country would be a better place, he thought. As for those who God has rejected, known because God chose not to prosper them...


He closed his eyes and loosened his tie. Until more people understood though, making sure more people did the right thing would result in persecution. Drawing a line between those God loved, and those God clearly had it in for would cause a great outcry among the unbelievers. But did it really have to be on a Wednesday night? He opened his eyes in time to see the green light at Kelley Ave. Just as he was about to hit the gas, a police car flew past him through the intersection, full lights and sirens. He hadn’t even heard it over the sound of that woman on the other end of his phone. He checked his mirrors and then floored the gas pedal. His SUV surged forward, setting him back in his seat like a jet. The power was almost better than...


“Vouchers.” she repeated. “Vouchers will only take money away from the already starving public schools. The rich kids who already have it all will leave, and the poor kids, English language learners and disabled students will be left with a broken system and even less chance of escaping poverty...”


He could feel his face turning red and his foot pressing harder on the gas pedal as he swerved around a junked out gas guzzler that looked like it needed to be put out of someone’s misery. Up ahead, he saw the sea of flashing blue, red, and white lights and a line of brake lights forming in his lane. No one was getting through and he didn’t have time to sit in traffic for an hour. At the last minute, he slammed on his brakes, cut the wheel to the right and accelerated into a run-down street lined with broken-down cars and crackerbox houses with paint peeling like sunburned skin. He wanted out quickly -- the sooner he made it around the accident and to the Interstate, the sooner he could get to church. He grabbed his phone, held it up over the top of the steering wheel and started swiping through his app screens. Where in the world did he hide Google Maps, this time?


“If you’d stop spouting soundbites...” That was it. The last thing he needed was an unbeliever’s vitriol while he tried to find a way out of a decrepit neighborhood so he could hurry up and get to his Bible study.


“ESAs are the only way to break up a failed system that refuses to look at the internal problems and insists on stealing more taxpayer money to feed itself!” he growled into the phone and disconnected the call. Teachers could be so unreasonable, especially the retired variety.


He’d just found his maps app when a popping sound assaulted his ears. He dropped the phone and his knuckles turned white on the steering wheel as his car decelerated like a skydiver after deploying his parachute. He stepped on the brake, and heard a crunching sound.


Moments later, he steered the car to the curb and took a deep breath. He glanced around. Other than a mangy looking dog, a couple of small foreign cars that looked like they’d seen better days and a few squat red-brick houses, he was alone. He reached down under his legs to pick up his phone and call Roadside Assistance, but came up with a handful of not-very-smart phone parts. He cursed under his breath, and followed up with a quick prayer of penitence.


After spending a few moments breathing and letting his temper subside, he swung open his door and stepped out onto the sunny, sweltering street. He glanced down and grimaced at the obviously flat front tire, then pondered his options: Attempt to change the tire, or walk to a nearby store and call for help?


He didn’t hear the door opening at a nearby house, or see what hit him. All he felt was the pavement slamming into his cheek, a searing pain in his arm, and sharp pains in his sides and head. It occurred to him that this might be how whack-a-moles felt. Pungent oil fumes battered his nose and he tasted his own blood. He coughed and spit; a tooth bounced in front of him and the world went fuzzy.


He must have only been out for a few minutes because one of his attackers was riffling through his pockets. The thug pulled out his wallet and rifled through his credit cards and identification.


“Remember that book we read in school? You know, the one named after a year?” he said.


“Uh uh,” the other thug chuckled. “Probably in juvy that day!”


“Yeah, he’s got the same name as that guy who turns out to be the thought police.”


“I’ll police his thoughts!” the other guys boot slammed into O’Brien’s head again.


Then the low-life pocketed $500 and his credit card. He’d have to cancel it just as soon as he found a phone, he thought around the buzzing in his ears.


Another thug yanked the Rolex watch off his blood-slicked arm just as his empty wallet landed at his nose. His eyelids slammed themselves shut.


Am I still alive?


His senses returned to him, and he realized he wasn’t alone. He cracked open one eye and spotted a very large Nike sneaker dangerously close to his head. From the sneaker rose a rather stocky kid who looked like he was in late elementary or early middle school. The senator suspected the later, considering the other boys in the group varied in appearance from late middle school to high school dropout. He tried to stand up, but quickly realized he could barely breathe, much less move even a finger.


“Dude, he’s messed up,” the little kid said. “Like, for real.”


He cracked open an eye in time to see the kid pick up his wallet and start sounding out the name on his driver’s license.


“Damien O’Brien,” he read haltingly.


The high school dropout, who’d been pacing, stopped in front of him. “Wicked! He’s named after that creepy kid in The Omen. Did you see that?”


The little kid shook his head, his eyes wide.


“Look at all the blood,” the dropout added. “It’s like CSI for real. Dude probably couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. Creepy name didn’t help him any.”


The boys snickered, and a deep-voiced thug he couldn’t see said, “This joker’s better off dead. He’s bleeding out all over my street. We need to call the city to take out the trash.”


“Maybe he needs a transfusion,” the little kid said. Now, he’s got the right idea, O’Brien thought.


“I ain’t wasting any of my blood on that old man,” the dropout sneered. “He’s dead already. Might as well sweep him up and dump him.”


“My mom says she ain’t gonna let some old guy take her kids’ blood,” another kid added. “That’s like robbing the young and giving to the dead, she says. She’s always watching those stupid doctor shows!”


The boys muttered agreement; he opened his mouth to express the ire rising in him, but all he could hear was phlegm rattling in his throat.


How could they stand around so callously while he died? Why didn’t they try to help him?!


He pried his eyelids open again and the kids were gone. A black dress shoe landed in front of his nose, adorned by a college aged man in a tailored business suit. The senator breathed a sigh of relief. Help must be on its way.


What little blood remained in his veins froze when he heard the man’s conversation with his elite buddies.


“Do you know this guy, Edmund?”


“Indeed, he’s Sen. Damien O’Brien,” Dress Shoe said. “Well, soon to be former senator. It doesn’t appear that he’ll be lasting long.”


“I’m sure if we provided some medical care, perhaps a bit of long-term treatment for that injured arm, he’ll be good as new,” the other man said.


“Doubtful,” Dress Shoe intoned. “He is a cog in the government legislative complex that just wants to save its own ass through pay raises and empty rhetoric designed to hide its own flaws. We’re better off without him. We can find someone who will cater to our needs instead.”


The senator struggled to focus his eyes, to see more of these men. Dress shoe seemed to hold a book in one hand, but he couldn’t see any more. Who were they? What did they want from him? Why weren’t they calling 911? They certainly needed to hear his Good Samaritan sermon!


“As expected,” yet another man in the group stated. “He is just like the other legislators. He lies and claims what he does is ‘for the people’ to cover up their deceptive practices. The people deserve someone who can do better than bleed all over the street!”


O’Brien heard what sounded like someone coughing up phlegm and then a wad of slimy wetness hit his cheek. His stomach rolled and he was grateful for the wave of nausea that washed away some of the pain. He peered up at Dress Shoe, who pulled a phone out of the inside pocket of his suit. Could he be seeing compassion in the young man’s actions?


He heard the men’s retreating footsteps, as Dress Shoe spoke into his phone: “I’d like to order three large pepperoni pizzas for delivery to the state capitol...”


He must have passed out again, because a mere blink later he saw a scuffed Croc before his nose. He looked up to see a woman with a scarf wrapped around her head, pushing a Wal-Mart basket. A blistering pain ignited his arm and a scream died as it fell out of his mouth. A young girl with scar tissue trailing up her neck and over her cheekbone and an amazing resemblance to the woman knotted a white scarf around his arm.


“Tabitha,” Croc lady said. “You run to the store and call 911. I’ll take care of this man.”


He heaved a sigh of relief, as best he could. Why is that name familiar, he wondered? Could it be a Biblical name? Yes! Tabitha had been a kind woman who took care of the poor; she had died, and when Peter prayed for her, she’d returned to life. Why had this woman named her daughter Tabitha? He wondered if he was dreaming now...


She rummaged through her cart, pulled out her winter coat, flattened it out, and placed it between his cheek and the blistering pavement. She extracted a bottle of water from a now-empty case, opened it, and held it up to his parched lips. She held the bottle as he quenched his thirst.


“They cut you bad,” she muttered, and pulled a t-shirt from her basket. She folded it up, placed it against his wound, and applied pressure. “You don’t worry. Tabitha and I’ll take good care of you now. Don’t you worry!”


Tabitha returned, sat on the scorching pavement next to him, and held his hand.


“Lord, we lift this man up to you,” the woman prayed. “Heal him in body and spirit. Let him see who you are through us.”


Had time shifted again? Red, white, and blue lights flashed around him, and he felt himself being lifted onto a stretcher. Paramedics inserted a needle into his arm and attached a bag of fluids.


He drifted out of consciousness and returned in time to see a man in green scrubs standing next to his hospital bed.


“Welcome back, Mr. O’Brien,” the doctor said. “We gave you 3 pints of blood, and I sutured your artery and tissues back together. You’re as good as new!”


“That’s it?” he asked.


“Sure!” the surgeon replied. “I just had to stop the hemorrhaging, repair the wound, and then replace all that you’d lost. You’ll be weak for a while, and you’ll probably need some physical therapy, but you’ll be able to function normally soon.”


The senator breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes.


Perhaps he was more tired than he thought because when he opened his eyes, the woman and her daughter stood next to his hospital bed.


“Good evening, Senator,” the woman said.


He swallowed and turned his head away to hide his reddening face.


“Why did you help me?” he asked.


Silence greeted his question, and he turned back, thinking he’d imagined the woman’s presence. But no. She still stood next to him.


"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” she asked. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."


The words sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place them.


“Is Tabitha your daughter?” he asked.


“Yes.”


“Are you homeless?”


She nodded, turning her eyes down.


“I’m a rich white guy who gets paid to fatten the paychecks of oil company stockholders. You should have let me to die in the street like everyone else.”


She looked back at him with a fire in her eyes he had not seen before.


On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”


The words hit him like blazing cinders and he stared, speechless.


“What is your name?” he asked.


“Samara,” she replied. As in Samaritan, the Good Samaritan. He felt the blood drain from his face. The verse wasn’t about making people do what you think is right. It’s about taking care of people -- even those you hate.


He blinked, or so it seemed. When he opened his eyes, she was gone.


Reflection -- After spending three weeks at the Oklahoma Writing Project Summer Institute, I felt an itch to write fiction that needed to be scratched. All I lacked was a good idea. Then my friend and mentor, Claudia Swisher, messaged me about an “argument” she engaged in with a friend of one of our illustrious state senators. She stated that she had made him so angry that he’d stopped talking to her. Naturally, I had to hunt down this conversation and see what had been said. As I read through the Facebook messages, one comment by the senator’s friend struck me in how ludicrous it was and how much it was based on rich-white-guy privilege. The friend did nothing throughout the discussion but spout education reform rhetoric designed to disenfranchise poor people. Even worse, this guy’s social media account is full of Christian symbolism. As I thought about how Christians are supposed to treat the poor, the sick, and the needy, the satirical short story formed in my head almost completely intact. I just had to work out the details.


Michelle Waters is a high school English teacher, award-winning Oklahoma education blogger, former small business owner and newspaper reporter. You can see her work at MrsWatersEnglish.com.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Potential Lost. Now Our Work Begins

I am old. That can’t come as a surprise to anyone. I’m old and I have a long memory, and I see patterns. The violence we are seeing now has been compared to the violence of 1968, but I remember longer ago than that. During my young adult years, a president was assassinated, two African American leaders were shot, a candidate for president was gunned down, and another candidate was attacked and left paralyzed. People my age began to assume that assassination was the way things were and would always be. That hideous violence by gun, taking the best and brightest away forever.

I was a freshman in college in 1963. November 22 people returned from lunch with shocked faces. Someone wandered up to a group of us and said, “Have you heard, the President has been shot.” We thought it was a sick joke. We waited for the punch line. Then a black and white television in the student lounge was turned on, and we saw. The weekend passed in a blur of images…Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One, with JFK’s body in the plane, with JFK’s widow standing next to him, bloody and dazed. The funeral courtage, the drumbeats, John John saluting his father for the last time. Potential lost.



1965 brought the assassination of Malcolm X. The image I hold in my head is the chairs upturned around his body on the stage where he was prepared to give a speech. Gunned down. Potential lost.

1968 was a gut-punch. In April, Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis; I have the memory of the picture of his followers standing on the balcony, point at the direction of the fatal shots. I remember that Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis, campaigning for the IN primary and went into the inner city and broke the news to a crowd of listeners. I knew he gave a speech, but it was years later that I heard it. Every time I hear it, I am moved to tears. Potential lost.



My first vote was for RFK in that primary. We stood in line around the courthouse in Bloomington, everyone supporting his or her own candidate, but the atmosphere was positive and hopeful.

Nearly two months to the day of King’s death, Kennedy was killed. “Now on to Chicago” were his last public words. The image that haunts me is the turmoil in the back room, and his pregnant wife, Ethyl, kneeling next to him, holding his head. Potential lost.

Any student of history knows about the Democratic convention in Chicago, and Mayor Daly and the riot police. We were young, not yet parents, and we feared for our country. We feared for our leaders. We feared.

Four years later, another candidate was shot. George “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” Wallace was shot at a campaign stop, and permanently paralyzed. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. I would like to hope Wallace would have softened his supremacy ways and grown in potential as a humanitarian. 

Not a bit of this, though, prepared me for the recent killing of young black men, and a child, at the hands of law enforcement officers…the very people entrusted to protect. Each time a new incident occurs, some immediately vilify the victim, pointing out criminal records or bad behavior, or clothing choices, as reasons the young man…or child…participated in his own death. Two more this week. Potential lost.

And then last night. A peaceful protest march turned deadly, as a sniper with cold precision murdered police officers. Not the police officers who participated in the deaths of young African American men…police officers who posed for pictures with protesters, police officers who have a positive reputation for community relations. More violence. More death. More guns. More families torn apart by another’s disregard for the lives of others. More futures lost.

I was catapulted back to that awful summer of 1968 – which, in my mind, always started in 19 63, moved through 1965, and on to 1972. One of the horrifying developments of 2016 is the 24/7 news cycle that demands new pictures, new witnesses, new interviews, new facts…or pretend facts. Now we’re bombarded with pseudo-news, inane interviews with people who have very little to say. New breaking news, news crawls, screaming talking heads.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and I can barely process today. I am back to that numb, unfocused, questioning self of 1968, just wanting to make sense.

I returned to RFK’s speech. His words give me hope and a bit of comfort.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

He didn’t know he would not be a part of the solution he proposed:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black… We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder."


Kennedy is still one of my heroes, and I have hope that we can strive to be the kind of nation he envisioned:
 “And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

I've seen social media posts by new moms who fear for the world their children will inherit. I've seen posts of parents of little boys who will grow up to be men of color. They fear for their sons and grandsons. My friend, Sabrina Stevens, eloquently reflects on being the mother of a mixed race son. How can she keep him safe? And strong and positive. 


It’s Friday as I write this, and though I’m not as eloquent as the Kennedy brothers, my Friday Blessing is my attempt to remind my students (and former students) that we are all here for each other, and we must ‘make gentle the life of this world.”


Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Buckle up. Hug a dad or a mother. Tell someone you love them. 


Monday, July 4, 2016

To Paraphrase Mark Twain...

…the report of the death of the Teacher Caucus has been greatly exaggerated. I’m not sure who named the collective of teachers and family members who decided to run for office, but I’ll stick with this phrase. I like it. It has a ring to it.

Talk about the classic David and Goliath story…incumbents, members of the machine, rich war chests, contacts, rolodexes full of names and numbers. Up against teachers and family, fed up with the neglect, sick of the disrespect. Tired of the funding cuts. Teachers and family, mostly political newcomers, some without the support of their own parties, funded by friends and neighbors, learning how to negotiate the world of politics on the fly, in real time. Inexperienced, unfunded novices. So, how did they do? Not bad at all.




There were 52 educators or family who chose to run for House of Representatives spots…19 Republicans, 32 Democrats, and one Independent.

This is our original list of candidates: 

HD Name Website Party Educator Primary Nov
2 Tom Sites http://www.tomstitesforok.com/ R Adjunct *
3 Troy Dyer D Yes *
4 Matt Meredith http://www.mattmeredithok.com/ D SchBd *
5 Joe Wilhelm III http://wilhelmforoklahoma.com/bio/ R Yes Lost
8 Rick Kibbe http://www.kibbecares.com/ R Yes Lost *
9 Richelle Helbig http://helbigforhouse.org/ R Yes Lost
12 Darla Milligan http://www.darlamilligan.com/ D Yes Won *
13 Wayne Herriman D Daughter *
14 Lee Ann Langston http://www.leeannlangston.com/ D Yes *
20 (Gregory) Matt Failing http://mattfailing.com/ Former *
25 David Weir http://votedavidweir.com/ D Yes *
27 Trey Baker http://www.vote4treybaker.com/ R Spouse Lost
28 Yasminda Choate http://www.yasmindachoate.com/ D Higher Ed Lost
29 Macy Gleason http://www.macygleason.com/ D Parents Won *
30 Mike Gambill http://john-m-gambill.ruck.us/ R Yes Lost
33 Caryl Talley Yes *
33 Connie Parker http://www.parkerforrepresentative.com/ R Yes Lost
42 Liz George http://lizforoklahoma.com/ D Higher Ed *
42 Jim Beckham http://jimforthehouse.com/ R Yes Lost $$
43 Mike Bounds D Spouse Won *
46 Jacob Rosecrants http://jacobrosecrants.com/ Yes *
46 Marilyn Goll Yes Lost
49 Michelle Bray http://www.michellebraydistrict49.com/ D Yes *
50 Melissa Tilley http://melissatilley.org/ D Yes *
52 John Thomas http://johnthomasforhouse52.weebly.com/ R SchBd Lost
58 Rochelle Covington http://covingtonforhouse.com/ R Daughter Lost
60 Chad Slane http://www.slanefor60.com/ R Yes RO ?
60 Patrick Case http://www.thecaseforeducation.org/ R Yes Lost
60 Rhonda Baker http://www.rhondabakerforok.com/ R Yes RO ?
62 Ruby Peters http://www.rubypetersforhd62.com/ D Yes Lost
63 Randy Batt http://randylbatt.com/ D Yes *
64 Jacobi Crowley http://jacobicrowley.com/ D Yes WON
65 Rick Gilleland http://www.rickforrepok.com/about-rick.html D Spouse *
66 Dianna Phillips http://www.phillipsfor66.com/ D Higher Ed Lost
67 John Croisant http://www.johncroisant.com/home R Yes Lost
67 Tom McCloud http://www.mccloud4oklahoma.com/home R Spouse RO ?
72 Monroe Nichols http://www.monroeforoklahoma.com/ D Yes Won *
75 Karen Gaddis http://www.karengaddis.com/ D Yes Won *
76 Glenda Puett http://www.glendapuett.com/ D Yes *
80 Tom Bates http://bates4ok80.wix.com/2016 D Yes *
81 Lyle Walters http://www.lylewalters.com/ Parents Lost
82 David Dickerson http://www.dickersonforok.com/ I Yes *
83 Jason Stone http://stonefor83.weebly.com/ D Higher Ed *
84 Tammy West http://www.tammywesthouse84.com/#home R SchBd Won *
84 Donnie Ryan http://www.ryanforrep2016.com/ R Spouse Lost
87 Kelly Meredith http://www.kellymeredithforok.com/ D Higher Ed Lost
93 Mickey Dollens http://mickeydollens.com/ D Yes Won *
95 James Cook D Higher Ed *
100 Jeremy Miller http://www.jmillerhd100.com/ D Yes *
100 Donald Wentroth http://www.donwentroth.com/ D Yes Won *
101 Cheryl M-Hessman http://www.cherylmooneyhamhessman.com/ D Yes Won *
101 Johnny Jump http://www.jumpforstatehouse.com/ R Yes Lost

In the House races, 20 candidates had no primary challenger and are set for their races in November. Nine won their primaries, 19 lost, and three are in run-off races next month.  One candidate who lost, Jim Beckham, was a target of the Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund, a pro-voucher foundation that spent big in several districts, sending almost identical attack mailers to voters in the districts. This group is headed by Jennifer Carter, former Chief of Staff for the former Superintendent, Janet Barresi, and her husband is an editorial writer for the Daily Disappointment Oklahoman.  Ironic that inexperienced, unfunded, unconnected teachers needed the big guns leveled at them.

So, 20 of the 52 candidates move on to November…and three will learn their fates in August. 

In the Senate, 13 Republican educators or family members ran, 12 Democrats and one Independent.  Fifteen of the 26 candidates will be on the November ballot, with five in August run-offs.

Here is the original Senate list:

SD Name Website Party  Educator Primary Nov
1 Michael Bergstrom R Yes Won  *
3 Rhonda Cox http://www.rhondacox.net/home.html D Yes *
5 Stacy Ebert D Yes Won  *
9 Jack Reavis http://jackreavis.com/index.html D Yes Won  *
9 Dewayne Pemberton http://www.pembertonforsenate.com/ R Yes Won  *
13 Eric Hall http://erichallforsenate.com/ D Yes Won  *
13 Greg McCortney http://www.gregmccortney.com/home R Spouse RO ?
15 Shawn Sheehan http://www.sheehanforok.com/ I Yes *
19 Rhonda Harlow http://www.harlow4oksenate.com/ D Yes *
19 Roland Pederson http://www.rolandforsenate.com/ R Yes RO ?
23 Kevin Crow http://jwtopper.wix.com/crowfor23 R HigherEd Lost
23 Lonnie Paxton http://lonniepaxton.com/ Spouse RO ?
25 Lisa Kramer http://www.votekramer.com/ R ScBd RO $$
29 Robert Jobe http://jobeforstatesenate29.com/ D Yes *
29 Jean Oliver http://www.oliverforoklahoma.com/ R Yes Lost $$
31 Chris Kidd http://www.chriskiddforsenate.com/about.php R Former RO ?
31 Toni Hasenbeck http://tonihasenbeck.com/ R Yes RO ?
37 Lloyd Snow http://snow4ok.com/ D Yes Won  *
37 Brian Jackson https://sites.google.com/site/ivotejackson/home R Spouse Lost
39 John Waldron http://www.waldron4ok.com/ D Yes *
41 Kevin McDonald http://www.mcdonaldforok.com/ D Yes *
43 Leah Pollan http://www.leahpollan.com/ D Parents *
43 Paul Scott http://www.scott4oksenate.com/ R Spouse Won  *
45 Mike Mason http://www.votemikemason.com/ Yes Lost $$
47 Judy Hopper http://www.judymullenhopper.com/ D Yes Won  *
47 Don Sherry http://www.sherryforstatesenate.com/ D Niece  Lost

Eight members of the “Teacher Caucus” won their elections, five lost. Of those, two candidates were victims of dark money…Jean Oliver lost her race, and Lisa Kramer is in a runoff.

My favorite campaign story involves the two Democrats running in SD 47. Don Sherry lost, and immediately donated his remaining campaign funds to the victorious Judy Hopper. That's what educators and their family do. Support each other.

There was much crowing from one Senator who beat a teacher candidate…with dark money from OK Federation for Children. He tried to spin his 55% win as a mandate for vouchers. He conveniently forgot to tell us he only pulled in 2800 votes. Reports are that OFC paid $801 for mailers to attack his opponent…so each vote cost them $3.52. No, Senator Loveless, you did not win a mandate. You and your name recognition only garnered 2816 votes in your own district. You escaped.

So, the Teacher Caucus did take some blows, and we lost some strong educators who would have been strong legislators. But many in both parties are still alive, still campaigning, and still reminding the incumbents that we are here. We want change.

Even the candidates who lost have learned. They’ve gained valuable, important wisdom if they decide to run again. Or work on a campaign, or advocate. I started with an allusion to David and Goliath…and I’ll close with one to Don Quixiote. Some of the candidates may have tilted with some windmills, but even in defeat, they learned. It’s my guess many of them will be back, forewarned, stronger, and more determined.

Here are the updated lists of Teacher Caucus candidates...

House Candidates for August (Runoff) and November

HD Name Website Party Educator Primary
2 Tom Sites http://www.tomstitesforok.com/ R Adjunct
3  Troy Dyer D Yes
4  Matt Meredith http://www.mattmeredithok.com/ D SchBd
12  Darla Milligan http://www.darlamilligan.com/ D Yes Won
13 Wayne Herriman D Daughter
14 L A Langston http://www.leeannlangston.com/ D Yes
20  Matt Failing http://mattfailing.com/ Former
25  David Weir http://votedavidweir.com/ D Yes
29  Macy Gleason http://www.macygleason.com/ D Parents Won
33  Caryl Talley Yes
42  Liz George http://lizforoklahoma.com/ D Higher Ed
43  Mike Bounds D Spouse Won
46  Jacob Rosecrants http://jacobrosecrants.com/ Yes
49  Michelle Bray http://www.michellebraydistrict49.com/ D Yes
50  Melissa Tilley http://melissatilley.org/ D Yes
60  Chad Slane http://www.slanefor60.com/ R Yes RO
60  Rhonda Baker http://www.rhondabakerforok.com/ R Yes RO
64  Jacobi Crowley http://jacobicrowley.com/ D Yes
65  Rick Gilleland http://www.rickforrepok.com/about-rick.html D Spouse
67  Tom McCloud http://www.mccloud4oklahoma.com/home R Spouse RO
72  Monroe Nichols http://www.monroeforoklahoma.com/ D Yes Won
75  Karen Gaddis http://www.karengaddis.com/ D Yes Won
76  Glenda Puett http://www.glendapuett.com/ D Yes
80  Tom Bates http://bates4ok80.wix.com/2016 D Yes
82  David Dickerson http://www.dickersonforok.com/ I Yes
83  Jason Stone http://stonefor83.weebly.com/ D Higher Ed
84  Tammy West http://www.tammywesthouse84.com/#home R SchBd Won
93  Mickey Dollens http://mickeydollens.com/ D Yes Won
95  James Cook D Higher Ed
100  Jeremy Miller http://www.jmillerhd100.com/ D Yes
100  Donald Wentroth http://www.donwentroth.com/ D Yes Won
101 Cheryl Hessman http://www.cherylmooneyhamhessman.com/ D Yes Won


The Teacher Caucus slate of Senate candidates is:


SD Name Website Party  Educator Primary Nov
1 Michael Bergstrom R Yes Won  *
3 Rhonda Cox http://www.rhondacox.net/home.html D Yes *
5 Stacy Ebert D Yes Won  *
9 Jack Reavis http://jackreavis.com/index.html D Yes Won  *
9 Dewayne Pemberton http://www.pembertonforsenate.com/ R Yes Won  *
13 Eric Hall http://erichallforsenate.com/ D Yes Won  *
13 Greg McCortney http://www.gregmccortney.com/home R Spouse RO
15 Shawn Sheehan http://www.sheehanforok.com/ I Yes *
19 Rhonda Harlow http://www.harlow4oksenate.com/ D Yes *
19 Roland Pederson http://www.rolandforsenate.com/ R Yes RO
23 Lonnie Paxton http://lonniepaxton.com/ Spouse RO
25 Lisa Kramer http://www.votekramer.com/ R ScBd RO $$
29 Robert Jobe http://jobeforstatesenate29.com/ D Yes *
31 Chris Kidd http://www.chriskiddforsenate.com/about.php R Former RO
31 Toni Hasenbeck http://tonihasenbeck.com/ R Yes RO
37 Lloyd Snow http://snow4ok.com/ D Yes Won  *
39 John Waldron http://www.waldron4ok.com/ D Yes *
41 Kevin McDonald http://www.mcdonaldforok.com/ D Yes *
43 Leah Pollan http://www.leahpollan.com/ D Parents *
43 Paul Scott http://www.scott4oksenate.com/ R Spouse Won  *
47 Judy Hopper http://www.judymullenhopper.com/ D Yes Won  *



Voters…you have some work to do. First, find out if you have a runoff election. If you do, research your candidates and vote #oklaed. Then, get to know the candidates in your district for the general election.  Go to their meetings, email them. Find candidates you can support with your time and your money. They will need both. Be active. Be there.


Then, VOTE. Despite our hopes, turnout for the primaries was still too low. That is unacceptable. If this Teacher Caucus is taking this risk for our students, we must show up to vote.

As always, I welcome corrections!