Sunday, June 8, 2014

Our VOICEs Will be Heard! VOICE Call to Action 6/8/14

I just attended an invigorating meeting of citizens from around the Metro, all committed to learning more about the candidates for State Superintendent of Public Schools. VOICE, Voices Organized In Civic Engagement, have formed an alliance of church populations, OEA, PTA’s PLAC’s to inform and listen. They’ve done informational meetings all over the state and have identified broad issues from those meetings. I attended one in Norman, and I can tell you, the information was top-notch, the ability to talk and listen, to identify issues, was beneficial.

VOICE collected all the feedback to their question: What are the elements of a Quality School and created broad categories:

School Climate

The planning committee for today’s meeting wrote questions from this feedback, and provided a chart in the program for listeners to take notes and highlight what was important to them.

I could NOT tweet fast enough, so I took notes of the meeting…Hopefully I captured exact words, or intents of the speakers. I will identify speakers when I can, but the meeting was so well organized and ran so quickly that I often couldn’t catch who said what.

  • Pastor Theodis Manning: Let’s stop report-carding everyone in this state.
  • Can we commit ourselves to take action.
  • One of the best public things is the public schools
  • Rev. Lori Allen Walke read us “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and ‘the system has no clothes’ was our rallying cry.
  • Lori Allen Walke: there are only 125 days a year for instruction after testing, benchmarking, and preparation for tests.
  • Lori Allen Walake: OK spends $5.3 billion a year for testing
  • Pastor Ray Douglas called for collaboration for student performance systems…that will champion our schools
  • Parents told stories about their children – special education, IEP students, ELL students. They highlighted their concerns and focused us on real kids with real needs. Very powerful
  • Melodie Garneau: Shouldn't the goal be to help them (IEP students), not label the school?
  • Ruben Aragon told us that OKC schools expelled low-performing students in an effort to raise A-F grades, devastating families.

There are four Democratic candidates for Superintendent. In alphabetical order: John Cox, Freda Deskin, Jack Herron, Ivan Holmes. All four were present.

There are three candidates on the Republican ballot: Janet Costello Barresi, Joy Hofmeister, Brian Kelly. Neither Barresi nor Kelly appeared. Joy Hofmeister sat all by herself. The moderators set down the rules that they would read each name in order, whether or not the candidate was present. It became our ‘inside’ joke to yell, “absent” every time Baressi’s name and Kelly’s name was called.

Six questions were asked of each. I learned that the candidates were given the questions about 30 minutes in advance of the meeting, and the questions were printed in our programs, along with space to take notes and rate the answers. Candidates had from between 45 seconds and 1-1/2 minutes to respond. The timekeeper was ruthless. Heather Sparks and Pastor James Dorn took turns asking the questions. And, as the master teacher she is, Heather would pointedly ask each candidate to answer the question with a ‘yes or no’ if he or she wandered off topic. Notes were recorded by Tammy Greenman on a large chart in front of the candidates, with summaries of their answers. My friend, Michale Gentry said THIS was a good example of a data wall...a little 'teacher humor' for those of us inundated by data.

#1: Would you work to eliminate high stakes testing?
Cox: IEP kids are inappropriately tested, he would work to develop workforce skills
Deskin: HST is child abuse. A single test should never define a child
Herron: Must eliminate HST – tests should be tools written by teachers.
Holmes: We should ignore tests; they are flawed. Let educators control education.
Holmes: Tests don’t teach kids; teachers teach kids
Hofmeister: HST must go away. That would take away pressure, toxic climate. Tests should be tools

#2 How would you increase funding directly to the classroom for smaller classes and teacher salaries?
Hofmeister: As an OK School Board member, she saw money staying at OSDE that should have gone to the schools. One-size-fits-all solutions from OSDE are not the way to go.  We must respect local control of schools
Cox: $200 million gone from OK schools. Teachers need raises to pay the bills. They also want to be valued and supported.
Deskin: Funding for schools keeps shrinking. Resources must flow to the classroom, smaller classes. Talked about having 45 kids in a class.
Herron: OK schools have not been fully funded since 1981. HB1017 has not been fully funded. Money is needed for schools, for pensions, for teacher pay
Holmes: OK has ruined teacher morale and starved teachers. Where is the lottery $$? We must ask Legislators to fully fund education.

#3 What are your top-three recommendations for restoring a love of learning?
Cox: Reduce testing; take care of children
Deskin: Relationships with students & families; make education relevant; then add rigor as internalized learning
Herron: Kids have got to want to go to school; K-3 flexible pacing
Holmes: Assure save, secure schools; teachers who care about students and love them
Hofmeister: High expectations and support (class size, environment); time (less time testing, more time teaching); trust, which must precede relationships

#4 How would you address testing company problems?
Hofmeister: Establish advisory groups – consistent groups, not ceremonial ones, or ones formed in crisis. There must be an advocate in OSDE, not adversary. OSDE must be in allegiance with the people in the state
Cox: VOICE, OEA, other stakeholders must be involved. 3rd grade ‘reading’ test measured language arts; 5th grade writing test measured reading comprehension. He would rely on VOICE. “It will take all of us to turn this thing around.”
Deskin: Pilot assessments with small groups/ Create tests with partners
Herron: Go back to paper-and-pencil tests. All of us should be involved, in collaboration
Holmes: Put the testing people out of business. Mentioned ALEC.

#5 Would you do away with A-F grading of schools?
Cox: Yes
Deskin: Yes
Herron: Yes
Holmes: Yes
Hofmeister: Yes

#6 What are your ideas for an alternative accounting system for schools?

Hofmeister: Called accountability as a series of mirrors to reflect back, accurate, valid, and reliable information. Mentioned research scientists who had offered to help OSDE. Said she would use their help.
Cox: Listed HST, TLE and data collection. We must look at the whole child
Deskin: All schools are different. We need to identify school climate and vision concerns – spoke of her school which requires new students to participate in character-building activities and diversity awareness.
Herron: Listed demographics, funding, testing and curriculum
Holmes: Smiles on kids’ faces and smiles on teachers’ faces important. Teachers must help kids think. Students must know they are safe.

Hofmeister got a positive response when she said the current administration is a ‘closed fist’ when working with schools.

We have the candidates…well, most of the candidates…on record. In front of 1500 Oklahoma voters.

Several candidates for other offices attended and introduced themselves. Joe Dorman, candidate for Governor got an enthusiastic reception.

Linda Hampton charged all who were present to commit to talk to five people about this election every day until election, and encourage them to speak to five people a day. The energy was positive.

Linda Hampton: Our children's future will be decided (with this race). Be their voices. Learning not testing is vital.

Suzanne Nichols: Take education back from the testing companies.

NOW we must vote. And make sure our loved-ones, our neighbors, our friends, vote. 

We must grow that energy.


  1. Thank you, Claudia, for your report. Those of us who could not attend appreciate your attention and commitment.

    1. Thanks. I wanted to live-tweet, but I couldn't listen and type fast enough. The meeting was a crisp 1-1/2 hours moved at lightning pace. I was glad I could share.

  2. Yes, thank you for your notes. I could not make the trip to the Metro today, but really wanted to know about the forum.

    1. It was positive and informative. Lots of community folks there...candidates had to look into our faces!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing! I want so badly to attend but I just couldn't make it work.

    1. Iam glad to was an important meeting, for sure.