The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to denounce House Bill 1775. Here are my prepared comments that I read from during our discussion:
I taught at a diverse high school here in the metro, and I will say that the conversations that happened in my classroom would absolutely have been illegal under House Bill 1775. We often discussed representation in the media. My kids had fierce, honest debates. They questioned one another. They questioned me. They disagreed. They looked through all kinds of prisms, like race, gender, age, poverty, and geography. They learned so much from the perspectives of one another, especially the experiences and histories of their families.
Students want and need to discuss historic and current events in the context of their own lives and communities. This bill comes from a fear of learning and a disdain for empathy. Like so many bills that try to micromanage our classrooms, House Bill 1775 does not come from educators. It does not come from administrators. It comes from politicians who haven’t been in a classroom since they were students. It comes from fear. It comes from fragility.
We ask so much of teachers, and this year, we have asked even more as our kids seek to understand the pandemic, the racial justice movement, and their place in the world. I overheard one of my daughter’s teachers the morning after a particularly difficult day in our country. She allowed her students to talk about their feelings, and they chimed in on their little virtual squares. Some could only bear to type how they felt in the chat box. She concluded with, “I love you, and I see you.”
That’s what our children need: to be loved and to be seen. When we refuse to see them, including how the world treats them, we cannot love them wholly for who they are.
Congratulations to all of the 2019-20 individual school Teachers of the Year who have been named for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Here's a list of the winning teachers from District 3, but you can read a full list of all the teachers on the district website. Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to all the amazing teachers in OKCPS!
Adams Elementary — Victoria Ganjanathavat
Buchanan Elementary — Lorenda Raines
Cleveland Elementary — Leslie Davis
Kaiser Elementary — Michelle Cheney
Mark Twain Elementary — Yolundia Cleveland
Rockwood Elementary — Mary Cate Bagnell-Jones
Mary Golda Ross Middle School — Dawn Ouellette
Taft Middle School — Amanda Girdler
Northwest Classen High — Debra Davis
Here are my comments from the board meeting tonight:
Today is the 131st first day of school in Oklahoma City.
In many ways, the 131st first day was like all the other first days before. Excited teachers and nervous students. Some classrooms are too full, and some have too many empty seats. Some things went wrong, but most things went right. Right now, thousands of kids are telling their families what happened at school today.
But really, this first day in Oklahoma City is unlike the 130 before.
This is the first day of school where we as a district have agreed to educate ALL kids.
Not most students.
Not some schools.
Not a few neighborhoods.
ALL kids in ALL schools in ALL parts of town.
Pathway to Greatness required us as adults to admit what we were doing — what we had been doing for decades — was unfair at best.
We had to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we KNOW better, so we must DO better.
Pathway to Greatness isn’t perfect, but it’s real, tangible progress. I know that’s of little comfort to those who started today with tears over these changes. New school. New faculty and staff. New classmates. Today was a hard day for a lot of people.
Everybody had something to give up in Pathway to Greatness, whether it was the loss of your neighborhood school or the loss of your comfort zone. Many of us on this board were directly affected as well. This is hard.
BUT everybody had something to gain. We have counselors in EVERY school. More nurses, more application schools, more support for teachers and leaders. EVERY child has access to art, music and PE. STEM labs are popping up in EVERY elementary school. Our secondary students now have science labs — real ones. Can you imagine trying to learn chemistry on YouTube and then going to college as an engineering major? We were not setting up our children for success, especially our black and brown students.
As a community, we agreed it’s more important to invest in our children than to preserve the status quo. As a board, we put policies in place to back that up.
My only regret is how long we as a community waited. A friend of mine says the best time to plant an apple tree is 20 years ago. Well, we didn’t. So we are planting that apple tree today — a first day unlike any other first days in Oklahoma City. Thank you to the district employees who made the impossible happen this summer. Thank you to teachers and support professionals who stuck with us, even with new assignments. Most of all, thank you to the families who chose to stay. I hope you had the best first day ever.
Here are my comments from the board meeting tonight about the Pathway to Greatness vote:
We are a district of 46,000 students and about 30,000 empty seats. Those seats weren’t empty 50 years ago during segregation. But then there was the botched busing plan, white flight. The northeast quadrant was neglected. The booming southside was largely ignored. We had a revolving door of superintendents and school board members. Charters came. Funding left. Families and teachers in pockets of the city kept their schools on life support.
We are dealing with a problem older than any of our students. It’s a complex problem that is gut-wrenching to fix.
All of us up here care about children. We are parents and grandparents. We are all affected directly by this plan, whether it’s our alma maters or child’s school or our neighborhood. This has been tears and sleepless nights. Last week my husband (very kindly) pointed out my first grey hair.
As my esteemed colleague, Board Member Ruth Veales, always says: when you know better, you do better.
I know that a mental health survey of our district found that 1 in 5 of our students report feeling hopeless, and 361 have attempted suicide in the past year.
I know we employ many teachers who are the only one teaching their grade at their building. They’re desperate for collaboration.
I know fine arts has a direct impact on growing minds, but thousands of our students don’t have art or music at all.
I know physical education improvements the body and the brain, but thousands of our students don’t have P.E. at all.
I know our reading and math scores aren’t where we want them to be, and while students do have challenges they bring with them to school every day, we must admit that we as adults are not giving them the full opportunities they deserve.
If we know these things, we must, therefore, do better. Inaction is immoral. Inaction says that these things are all OK. And they are not OK.
One question I have heard often in the past several months is, “Why can’t we wait? Why won’t you slow down.” Because students get one shot. They have one chance at third grade. One chance at eighth grade. One senior year. We cannot wait. We have been waiting for decades. One woman at the Spencer community meeting brought me to tears with her comments. She compared her community’s schools to a child waiting for the bus. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. The bus never comes to pick us up.” We must pick everyone up, and we must do it now.
We cannot wait for change any longer. Children with suicidal thoughts or mental illness or trauma cannot wait for us as adults to be comfortable. They need a counselor now. Children who don’t have access to art or music or PE or librarians cannot wait for us to be comfortable. They need teachers now.
This redistricting has been a year and a half in the making. It has been researched down to the studs by engineers, educators, community members, board members and administrators. The board passed a policy last summer that instructed the administration, beginning this year, to evaluate our district as a whole: demographics, facility usage, academics and programming, the location and physical condition of our buildings, the surrounding community, safety and legal restrictions. That same policy asks for this kind of top-to-bottom assessment every five years. Our city and our children cannot wait another 50 years.
The consequences of today will be long-lasting. We know that. Pathway to Greatness is not a panacea. It is not a cure-all. It is, however, a start.
Fear can paint us into a corner. We become so afraid of change that we cannot act for fear of making things worse. We become desperate and start believing that change will happen on its own if we just wait a little while longer. It won’t.
We have so many wonderful teachers, administrators and support professionals. We have 46,000 incredible students who are worthy of everything we can possibly give them. This is hard and sad and awful. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be heartbroken. It’s a loss, and it’s very real. We still must be willing to take one hand off the ladder rung and help pull our neighbors up. We can all climb together.
Congratulations to all of the 2018-19 individual school Teachers of the Year who have been named for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Here's a list of the winning teachers from District 3, but you can read a full list of all the teachers on the district website. Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to all the amazing teachers in OKCPS!
Adams Elementary - Dana George
Buchanan Elementary - Debra Cox
Cleveland Elementary - Leslie Scrivner
Kaiser Elementary - Amanda Girdler
Linwood Elementary - Brian Taylor Snyder
Mark Twain Elementary - Brenda Martindale
Mary Golda Ross Elementary - Letia Crawford
Pierce Elementary - Jessica Garrett
Rockwood Elementary - Joe Norton
Westwood Elementary - Miguel Blanco
Taft Middle School - William Calvin
Northwest Classen High School - Travis Cunningham