I have a very selfish reason (three, actually) for fighting Janet Barresi’s reelection bid: my granddaughters. Haley is entering ninth grade, Ashley will be a seventh grader, and Katie just finished first grade. Their experiences in school have been defined by the reforms Janet Barresi has championed, their schools’ cultures have been tainted by her reforms. There is a toxic climate of fear in schools that can only be changed with a change of Superintendent.
I will use her own words to highlight the damage she’s done. She recently participated in two debates, one with all of the Democratic candidates, and one with her main Republican rival.
I want to start with the second debate, because it goes to this grandmother’s heart like a stake.
During the open-question portion, a fifth grader asked both candidates a question. I’ll quote the exchange:
“During an open question-and-answer period at the end, Caiden Catcher, a fifth-grader from Union Public Schools, told the candidates: “I tested for two weeks, and I also tested with a computer. I want to know how you will decrease testing.” Barresi responded, “If you’re a fifth-grader, I really don’t know why you were tested for two weeks, because there should be only two — two tests that should take about an hour apiece. Perhaps those were tests given by your school district.” Hofmeister then said, “I am so sorry you had to spend so much time testing and not learning. … I don’t know the particular details of your school, but everywhere I go, I hear over and over again that schools are responding to mandates. “We need to have a leader who will listen and not dismiss. There’s a practicality that you only understand when you are a part of it and you are there and you can see and feel the stress of it. It is toxic, and it needs to change.””
Look again at the Superintendent’s words, her first words to this child: “IF you’re a fifth grader…” Before addressing the question…IF? IF? “If you’re too dumb to know what grade you’re in? If you’ve made a mistake?”
Then, she contradicts the child who DID test for two weeks to explain that was wrong. This fifth grader is supposed to be the business of our Superintendent. Every public school student in Oklahoma should be the most important stakeholder for our leaders. Instead of responding to the child’s concerns, instead of respecting the child, complimenting the courage it took to get up and ask that question, Barresi dismisses the child and the concern with her ‘IF’. Also notice the slap at the school district, trying to instill distrust in the professionals closest to the students.
I was struck by the difference in tone from Hofmeister, even on the page: “I am so sorry…” She begins by acknowledging this student’s concerns and feelings. I can see this little one’s shoulders relaxing, that quick breath as someone listened to the question and responded with respect.
Barresi says over and over how she’s in office to protect the students of Oklahoma, not the adults. Well, she had a very public opportunity to show us how she values our kids…she failed the test in my mind. I envisioned my Grands asking that question. I know they’re the experts about how many tests they took, how long they tests…They know what those testing days feel like, the anxiety, the stress. This Granny might have launched herself toward the stage if the Superintendent had spoken so dismissively to my girls.
Oh, and by the way…guess what? The child is right. The Superintendent of Public Instruction is wrong. Is she smarter than a fifth grader? Guess not.
Earlier in the week candidates participated in a forum and I listened with interest, as this was one of the first appearances both she and her other phantom opponent, Brian Kelly, have attended.
Barresi’s closing statement tells me everything I need to know about her delusional views of our schools, our kids, and the climate she has created in Oklahoma.
She rests her campaign on three pillars: Reading, Accountability and Parent Choice. And her record as a ‘reformer’.
At least she left Horton the Wilders at home that evening, but she is still dead-wrong about early Reading. She said there was no bigger problem to overcome in our state. Nothing was more critical. She continues to misunderstand reading difficulties and special education, and told us that special education numbers would drop when we ‘solved’ reading. Dropouts would also magically disappear when all our children read at level.
The subtext here is she loves her punitive RSA…she believes flunking third graders on the results of one test is a good thing. Remember Katie? She could easily be caught in Barresi’s buzz saw called RSA. She and her classmates will NOT be protected by the recent HB2625. Her mother and dad and teacher will NOT have the right to work together to decide the best placement for Katie if she ‘fails’ the reading/ELA test when she’s a third grader. There is just as much research that shows children who are retained become our dropouts as there is showing remedial readers are dropouts. She said we need to move forward (punitive RSA), not roll back (HB2625) our efforts. How interesting, considering she recently fired all the REAC3H reading coaches around the state…great way to move forward.
Her second campaign issue is Accountability – more tests, more punishment. Earlier in the debate she stood confidently behind her A-F system of grading schools…confident and alone: the only candidate who had a good word for A-F. She told us it was great; she told us it was accurate. She stands behind it. She continues to ignore the independent research of the leading scientists in our state. Accountability also includes her teacher evaluation system that rolls out connected to test scores. She loves her high-stakes tests, and she reminded us all that ACT, which will be aligned with CCSS, can no longer be used in OK, since HB3399 specifically says our curriculum, our standards, our assessments must not resemble CCSS at all…really wish the moderator would have asked a follow-up question about that…
Her third issue is no surprise for those of us who paid attention, during her campaign in 2010, and during her 3-1/2 years. Parent Choice. Janet Barresi never met a charter or online charter she didn’t love. Choice…If it’s the choice to leave public schools. Parent Choice, if it’s the choice to take a special education student out of a public school, use public funds to attend a private school, where there may or may not be IEP services available. She and Rep. Jason Nelson are firmly for parent choice…to leave, to abandon. He exhorted us to ‘just trust parents’ about vouchers. She trusts parents…UNTIL it comes to third graders’ parents. Then, the choice and trust are turned off like a spigot. No trust is afforded parents who want to work with teachers to properly place their children for the next year. Parents obviously cannot be trusted to sit in a team and make that kind of decision. Her deep disconnect makes my head spin.
So, a vote for Janet Barresi, in her own words, is a vote for a leader who ignores the concerns of our children, even publically denies their concerns. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote against my granddaughters and their friends. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote against parents’ ability to make educational decisions about their children, WITHIN public schools. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote for more high stakes tests, and more high stakes. A vote for Janet Barresi is a vote against the public schools in Oklahoma.
Her own words are clear. Will we listen? Katie and I need you to listen and vote for a change. We’re counting on you.