The Oklahoma State School Boards Association is hosting five virtual information sessions for Oklahomans interested in serving on a local school board.
The first three “So You Want to be a School Board Member?” sessions – at 6 p.m. Oct. 24, noon Nov. 15 and 6 p.m. Nov. 30 – are free and open to anyone who wants to learn more about school board service. The fourth and fifth free sessions at noon Dec. 13 and 6 p.m. Dec. 19 are designed for those who filed for a school board seat during the Dec. 4–6 filing period.
Shawn Hime, OSSBA’s executive director, and Julie Miller, OSSBA’s deputy executive director and general counsel, will share information and answer questions about the qualifications required to run for school board, the election process and the roles and responsibilities of school board members.
OSSBA, a non-profit organization that promotes quality public education through support for school board members and school districts statewide, launched the Get on Board campaign four years ago to emphasize the importance of school board service.
Public school districts in Oklahoma typically have three-, five- or seven-member school boards, with at least one seat up for election each year. If two people file for the same seat, a general election takes place in April. If more than two people file for the same seat, a primary election takes place in February.
To learn more about running for school board and to register for an information session, visit ossba.org/getonboard.
For more information about the sessions, please download the Get on Board flyer.
OSSBA recently honored five school board members from across Oklahoma as this year’s 2023 All-State School Board, recognizing their outstanding service to their communities, school district and state.
Combined, this year’s honorees have served more than 10 decades as locally elected civil leaders. OSSBA is proud to recognize the following board members for their dedication and passion for public education, their communities and the students their districts serve: Frank Lornes, Marietta; JD Soulek, Pioneer Technology Center; Al Heitkamper, Little Axe; Dr. Joe Williams, Meridian Technology Center; and Susan Rhea, Newkirk. Lornes was also selected as the 2023 Buddy Spencer Leadership Award recipient.
In addition, Eva Martens of Fairview and John Clay of Caddo Kiowa Technology Center were honored as the 2023 Distinguished Service Award winners.
“We were honored to celebrate this year’s award winners at the 75th Education Leadership Conference,” OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said. “As locally elected school board members, the 2023 OSSBA All-State Board and recipients of the Distinguished Service Award have played a critical role in ensuring the children in their communities are well-prepared for the future. It was an honor to get to recognize their dedication, support and passion for public education.”
The winners were honored during the OSSBA/CCOSA Education Leadership Conference on Saturday, Aug. 26.
Lornes was first elected to serve on the school board in 1988, and through decades of active involvement and service, he has earned the trust and faith of the Marietta community. With more than 30 years on the Marietta School Board, Frank Lornes has been a catalyst for growth and improvement in his district and community.
“Mr. Lornes’ commitment to the Marietta School District and, more importantly the children of this community, speak volumes and is a testament to his servant heart,” Marietta Superintendent Brandi Naylor said. “He has kept the students at the forefront of the board’s decisions through multiple generations, having exponential influence over the lives of so many. He deserves the utmost thanks and praise for his efforts. We have been incredibly blessed to have Frank Lornes on the Marietta School Board for so many years.”
His service has led to numerous improvements to Marietta Public Schools, including the passage of the largest bond project in the district’s history. The $19 million bond will help construct a middle school/high school building. During his tenure on the Marietta board, Lornes has become known as a true servant leader whose top priority is the well-being of the district’s staff and students.
JD Soulek’s knowledge and experience have been instrumental to the Pioneer Technology Center Board of Education for 23 years. After joining the board in 2000, Soulek has helped the district through key improvements and opportunities for growth, including the annexation of Woodland Public Schools into the technology center’s boundaries in 2005 and the addition of a Health Wing that improved health-related programs for current and future students in 2014.
“We are thrilled to celebrate JD Soulek and his recognition as a 2023 OSSBA All-State Board Member,” Pioneer Technology Center Superintendent Traci Thorpe said. “Pioneer Technology Center is grateful for Mr. Soulek’s long-time dedication, leadership and commitment to our district. This award is a well-deserved tribute to his efforts as a true champion of education.”
Not only has he helped the grow district programs and opportunities for its students but has assisted with several building and property acquisitions that have allowed programs such as the Truck Driver and Emergency Services Training to expand. In 2020, Soulek also helped break ground on a new westward expansion project that updated the culinary arts facilities and brought cosmetology to the main campus.
Al Heitkamper first joined the Little Axe Board of Education in 1998. During his 25-year tenure, Heitkamper has displayed a dedication to public education in Oklahoma and a commitment to providing services and opportunities to Little Axe students.
“If anyone deserves this award, it is Al,” Little Axe Board of Education President Beverly Felton said. “He goes above and beyond for this district and the role as a board member. He has served for over 25 years on the Board of Education for Little Axe Public Schools, and I hope that he continues to serve this district as long as he possibly can. He has a wealth of knowledge about the history of the school and even how some of the classes were formed from their early stages.”
During his service on the board, Heitkamper has demonstrated not only dedication but a passion for his district and community. He was integral to helping Little Axe Public Schools and the community after a tornado touched down and hit the school in 2010 and again in 2013, ensuring that the school had the necessary resources to continue to serve its students.
Since 2004, Dr. Joe Williams has been a key member of the Meridian Technology Center Board of Education. Meridian Technology Center relies on his leadership and input to prepare students to enter the Oklahoma workforce.
“Dr. Williams’ continuously demonstrates his commitment to Meridian’s mission,” Meridian Technology Center Superintendent Dr. Douglas Major said. “He takes a personal interest in our programs and services and makes a dedicated effort to ensure our students have opportunities for career success. He is attentive to the unique needs of our communities, our district employers and our constituents. We have definitely benefited from having Dr. Williams on our Board.”
In his 19 years on the school board, Williams has supported district growth and has been a familiar face on campus, learning from and visiting with staff and students. In 2022, Williams helped open the South Campus in Guthrie, which focuses on adult training and development.
During her 11 years on the Newkirk Board of Education, Susan Rhea has had the opportunity to implement decisions that have helped Newkirk Public Schools and its students grow and succeed. As an active school board member, she has shown dedication and willingness to serve the students and staff in her district and community.
“Susan Rhea has served on the Newkirk Board of Education for over a decade,” Newkirk Public Schools Superintendent Todd Overstreet said. “She has had the opportunity to make many decisions that have helped Newkirk Public Schools succeed in many different ways. Susan is a true servant and has had a positive impact on our school and community.”
Currently, Rhea is lending her knowledge and experience to the district’s vision creation committee, comprised of school stakeholders committed to developing a vision for Newkirk’s future. Every year, Newkirk Public Schools also elects Rhea to serve as its board of education representative for its negotiation team.
Eva Martens dedicated 36 years of service to the students, staff, parents and community members in Fairview as a school board member. First elected to serve on the Fairview Board of Education in 1986, Martens has shown a tremendous passion for Fairview Public Schools and the students within her district.
“Eva Marten’s service to Fairview Public Schools panned more than 30 years,” Fairview Public Schools Superintendent Craig Church said. “Her service was marked by several notable attributes. One, intense focus on upholding the high standards Fairview Public Schools and the Fairview community is known for and expects to see continued. Two, kid-first focus on all decisions. Three, caring for our staff in every way possible. Four, attention to little details. Clean campuses and freshly painted rooms matter, and they make a difference. If you look professional, you will act professionally. Five, a board should be professional in its business and adhere to all laws and standards. Summed up in a word – excellence.”
Martens helped pass numerous successful bond issues that helped improve district facilities, including a high school gym renovation and the construction of the Eva Martens Early Childhood Center. She retired from public service in 2022.
First elected to serve on the Caddo Kiowa Technology Center Board of Education in 1992, John Clay has dedicated over 29 years to uplifting and supporting the future workforce of Oklahoma.
“Mr. Clay was an extremely insightful board member,” Caddo Kiowa Technology Center Superintendent Tony Hancock said. “He was always aware of the overall impact decisions had on the school while not forgetting the individual impact on staff and students. Mr. Clay brought a great deal of integrity, knowledge and wisdom to the Caddo Kiowa Technology Center Board of Education and will be missed.”
As the board clerk, he helped guide his fellow board members with health care education and policy development. Clay retired from board service in 2021 and is leaving behind a legacy of growth and opportunity.
The All-State board is an honorary board that includes five of the most outstanding board members of the year. Nominations can come from superintendents or other board members, and winners are selected by a committee of board members who serve on OSSBA’s board of directors. The selection committee doesn’t include board members from nominee districts. Each winner received $400 for their district to spend on instructional materials.
The committee also selects one All-State board member to receive the Buddy Spencer Leadership Award. The recipient is someone who demonstrates leadership on a local or state level and a dedication to improving his or her boardsmanship. The award includes $600 for the district to spend on instructional materials.
Posted Oct. 6, 2023
A longtime school board member from Pauls Valley Public Schools will serve as president of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association for the next year. Joe Don Looney has served on the Pauls Valley school board since 2004, currently serving as its president.
“School board members understand that our state’s future leaders are in today’s classrooms and have a deep commitment to ensuring students are prepared for their future,” Looney said. “OSSBA serves school board members statewide, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead and help ensure every school board receives the support and services they need to pave a path to success for every child.”
Looney, a Pauls Valley graduate, said he began serving on his local school board as a way to give back to the community and “repay the investment others made in me.”
Other officers for 2023-2024 are: Rick Gowin, North Rock Creek Public Schools, president-elect; Melissa Abdo, Jenks Public Schools, first vice president; Darrell Ward, Denison Public Schools, second vice president; and Cheryl Lane, Frontier Public Schools, past president.
The officer slate was unanimously approved at the OSSBA Delegate Assembly during the OSSBA/CCOSA Education Leadership Conference.
OSSBA is a non-profit association governed by a 32-member board of directors comprised of local school board members. For a complete list of OSSBA directors, please visit our board of directors page..
A new survey shows the struggle to recruit and retain educators in Oklahoma is reaching new levels.
Oklahoma schools reported 1,019 teaching vacancies as the 2022-2023 school year began even as they are on pace to employ record numbers of emergency certified teachers and plan to expand the use of adjunct instructors, according to the Oklahoma State School Board Association’s annual teacher staffing survey.
The vacancy number is the highest in the nine-year history of the survey. In 2016, districts reported 1,000 vacancies. It’s also a significant jump over last year, when districts reported 680 vacancies. The numbers match the sentiment of school administrators charged with staffing classrooms – nearly 70% said the teacher hiring market is worse than a year ago.
“Most of us have never lived in a time like this when schools – and the entire country – are still rebounding from pandemic disruptions,” OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said. “This is the right time to make a bold, unprecedented commitment to ensuring every Oklahoma child is in a classroom with a high-quality teacher who has the training and resources they need to help every student succeed.”
Hime said education leaders along with parents, community and business leaders and legislators must commit to working together to ensure Oklahoma students remain the state’s top priority and collaborate on solutions for the teacher shortage crisis.
“Investing in education is the best form of economic development,” he said. “Our students deserve it. And it’s the best strategy to shore up the teacher pipeline by retaining the teachers who are in today’s classrooms while making teaching an attractive profession for high school, college students and those interested in changing careers to consider.”
Other findings from this year’s survey, which included responses from 328 districts representing 77% of the state’s student population during the first week of August:
• Very little has changed over the years in the most difficult-to-fill areas. Special education remains the most difficult area to fill followed by secondary math and science teachers.
• 25% of school districts increased teacher compensation compared to last year, either through salary increases, retention/recruitment stipends or both.
• 60% of school districts increased compensation for support professionals through pay raises, through a mix of pay raises and recruitment/retention stipends.
• In addition to pay, districts have offered the following incentives for employees: no- or low-cost daycare and before- and after-school programs; increased benefits; expanded the years of experience accepted (especially out-of-state) to determine a teacher’s salary scale placement; tuition reimbursement; biweekly paychecks; low-cost housing or house incentives; additional paid professional development opportunities; and classroom grants through private partnerships; and financial assistance for certification tests.
• 85% of districts anticipate a substitute teacher shortage.
• Districts hope to restore several hundred positions that were cut or went unfilled the last two years. Public schools had 500 fewer teachers in 2021-2022 than two years prior, according to state Education Department figures.
While districts receive no new funding through the state education budget for the current fiscal year, the survey found many are using federal pandemic relief funds to temporarily bolster recruitment and retention efforts.
Increased investment in education in four of the last five years resulted in increased teacher compensation for a time above the average of surrounding states. But other states continue to invest and the latest rankings show Oklahoma has fallen behind the regional average. Driving that change is a frustrating reality: Oklahoma remains last in the region in per-student investment in education and would need an infusion of $1.2 billion annually just to reach the average invested per student in surrounding states, according to the most recent federal data.
“Education leaders are incredibly grateful for the work legislators have accomplished in recent years in an attempt to ease the shortage and strengthen the teacher pipeline,“ Hime said. “But the survey and other data paint a pretty clear picture: the work is far from done.”
Legislative changes in recent years allowing greater flexibility in hiring emergency certified teachers, bringing retirees back to the classroom and allowing adjunct instructors to teach more classes are filling gaps.
• Districts are on track to break last year’s record-high number of emergency certified teachers. Almost 3,000 emergency certificates have been approved so far this school year – about 300 ahead of the same time last year.
• Dozens of districts also report they’ll leverage changes in state law allowing adjunct instructors to teach more courses. Earlier this year, legislators approved and the governor signed Senate Bill 1119 by Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, and Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, which eliminated a cap on how many hours an adjunct instructor could work each semester.
• Almost half of districts report they’ll seek to hire retired educators to teach some classes.
Earlier this year, state leaders approved House Bill 3564, which promises up to $5,500 in college scholarships for qualifying future teachers followed by up to $20,000 in incentive payments over their first five years of teaching. The scholarships created by the bill authored by Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, and Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, are already drawing a high level of interest. More than 800 students have applied since the program launched last month, according to higher education officials.
“We know many districts are already working hard to recruit middle school and high school students to consider the profession through ‘grow-your-own’ programs,” Hime said. “I have no doubt this new scholarship opportunity will draw the interest of even more potential teachers, but it, too, will need sustainable funding as it grows.”
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association selected two organizations that exhibited a strong commitment to their school districts and public education as the recipients of the 2022 Barbara Lynch Community Partner Award – North Tulsa Community Education Task Force and Seaboard Foods.
Both organizations exhibited extraordinary passion for their school districts, providing outreach opportunities, furthering important educational initiatives and programs, and advocating for education. Partnering with their school districts, North Tulsa Community Education Task Force and Seaboard Foods proved they are a collaborative member of their community and improved the lives of the students, teachers, and staff in their schools, as well as those that live in their community.
“Community organizations like North Tulsa Community Education Task Force and Seaboard Foods are vital to school districts,” OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said. “They help build strong relationships between the district and its community, provide opportunities for community involvement, and are steadfast supporters of their students, teachers and schools.”
North Tulsa Community Education Task Force and Seaboard Foods will be recognized this weekend at the annual OSSBA/CCOSA Education Leadership Conference. They will be honored alongside the five-member OSSBA All-State Board and the recipient of the OSSBA Distinguished Service Award.
Comprised of community members, parents, student advocates and educators, the North Tulsa Community Education Task Force brings the Tulsa community together in support of the district and its students. Created in 2018, members worked with the school district to develop a recommendation to present to the Tulsa Board of Education on designing a McLain feeder pattern.
“Through this extensive collaboration, we have an opportunity to begin to create stronger academic and extra-curricular programming for our students while reducing the number of transitions that they have throughout their time in school,” said Tulsa schools Superintendent Deborah Gist. “The most powerful thing that can happen in a school is when people rally behind it and believe that its students and teachers can achieve the extraordinary. With a unified middle school experience in the McLain feeder pattern, all students will have access to specialized programs that create exceptional learning experiences.”
After reviewing data, touring facilities, researching successful school models, and gaining community and student input, the task force presented its recommendation to the Tulsa Board of Education. In 2019, the Tulsa Board of Education unanimously approved the task force’s suggestion to turn the 7th-grade center into Monroe Demonstration Academy, the only middle school feeder for McLain High School. In January 2019, the task force presented a set of recommendations for how to best serve students in McLain feeder pattern schools, which included the expansion of Monroe Demonstration Academy to serve all 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in the feeder pattern.
The new McLain feeder pattern now filters seven elementary schools into Monroe Demonstration Academy then onto McLain High School. The task force continues to be a driving force for education in the North Tulsa area, providing support through recruiting substitute teachers, tutoring and mentoring, and advocating on behalf of schools.
Serving the Guymon school district with a diverse student population, Seaboard Foods ensures a positive school environment with community outreaches, volunteer opportunities and donations.
“Seaboard Foods and its employees are strong supporters of Guymon Public Schools. They are committed to building a valued partnership between the Guymon community and its schools,” Superintendent Dixie Purdy said. “Not only have Seaboard Foods employees volunteered their time to help our students with career readiness, but they have also donated school supplies, food, and other necessities.”
Seaboard Foods is active in the Guymon community with employees volunteering to read to and with Guymon elementary students, mentoring and providing career presentations at intermediate sites and working with the district to bridge the home and school language barrier. They sponsor homecoming tailgates, buy tickets to school athletic events for the community to attend for free and sponsor culture events to celebrate the diversity of the community and district.
Working closely with Seaboard Foods Vice President and General Manager Rick Sappington and Human Resources Director Jennie Watkins have helped Guymon reduce dropout rates and have helped provide solutions to secondary students navigating working for the company and earning a high school diploma. Created in honor of Barbara Lynch, who served on the Tulsa Technology Center Board of Education from 1986 to 2003, the community partner award honors organizations and businesses that go above and beyond for their schools. A committee of school board members that serve on the OSSBA Board of Directors reviews nominees and selects award recipients.
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) has selected five Oklahoma school board members, who demonstrated outstanding service to their local school boards and communities, to be a part of the 2022 All-State School Board.
The honorees are Kandy Collins, Verdigris; Andrew Snell, Locust Grove; Richelle Humphrey, Pauls Valley; Paula Lewis, Oklahoma City; and Rick Gowin, North Rock Creek. All-State School Board Members receive $400 for their district to spend on instructional materials.
Recognized as the state’s most outstanding board member, Collins was also selected to receive the OSSBA Buddy Spencer Leadership Award. As this year’s recipient, Collins will receive an additional $600 for her district to spend on instructional materials. In addition, former Adair School Board Member Rodney Schilt was selected as the 2022 Distinguished Service Award winner.
“This year’s All-State School Board and Distinguished Service award winners have displayed a passion for uplifting students and teachers and advocating for education in their communities,” OSSBA Executive Director Dr. Shawn Hime said. “We are excited to celebrate these board members at this year’s Education Leadership Conference and recognize them for their commitment and service to public education.”
Collins has been a member of the Verdigris Board of Education for 23 years and has been the board president for 18 years. She was a key member of the Save Our Schools Committee, which helped create a multi-phase master plan that moved Verdigris from a K-8 school system to a PK-12 school system.
“Kandy has led the district through adding the high school – the facilities, the grade levels, the staffing and the programs – as well as through the Oklahoma budget cuts, teacher shortages, teacher walk-out and navigating through the circumstances from COVID-19,” Verdigris Superintendent Mike Payne said. “She also works phenomenally with the public.”
Collins also helped the school district to pass several bond issues that allowed Verdigris Public Schools to grow, build and update facilities, and provide new and exciting opportunities for its students.
Snell, Locust Grove school board president, has served as a school board member for 12 years. He is active in his district, serving on the Locust Grove Public Schools facilities committee, health and safety committee and the negotiations committee.
“Mr. Snell is a service-minded board member who believes strongly in making sound decisions that are in the best interest of the students,” Dusty Torrey, former Locust Grove superintendent and current Garber superintendent, said. “He has been a true servant of Locust Groves Public Schools for the past 12 years.”
Snell helped the school district pass three bonds. He ensures that the district maintains updated policies and is compliant and works well with his fellow board members. Throughout his tenure as a school board member, Snell was selected as legislative liaison for his board of education and has been an active member of the OSSBA.
Humphrey has been a member of the Pauls Valley Board of Education for six years. She is dedicated to bolstering her school district, assisting with the planning process to pass a key bond issue for the district. The bond issue helped build a new elementary school, band facility, FFA facility and provided upgrades to the gym.
“Richelle seeks professional development at every opportunity,” Pauls Valley School Board Member Joe Don Looney said. “She is always engaged and searching for opportunities for Pauls Valley students and staff. She shows great knowledge when making decisions in board meetings, wants what’s best for all students, is a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and supports the administration, teachers and parents.”
She is active in her district and attends all school banquets and is often seen at extracurricular activities supporting Pauls Valley students and staff. Humphrey is very active in her community. She is a part of the Pauls Valley Academic Excellence Board, the Pauls Valley Rotary Club, has served on the Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce Board, including spending a year as board chair, and was the Whitebead School Parent Teacher Organization treasurer.
Considered a driving force for her district, Lewis has been chairwoman of the Oklahoma City Board of Education for six years.
“Believing the rich diversity of our community is what makes Oklahoma City Public Schools strong, Paula has championed a number of initiatives intended to celebrate with more than 32,000 students and 5,000 staff members throughout the year,” Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel said. “It is always her desire that our students, families, staff and community partners feel welcome and appreciated when they come through our doors.”
Lewis implemented board work sessions and demonstrated leadership skills that created a collaborative, team-focused environment. She consistently ensures parents and community stakeholders are given opportunities to provide input when major initiatives are being considered.
She was instrumental in restructuring school board education meetings to better serve the district, its students, staff and community members. She holds a vital leadership role on the Compact for Oklahoma City Public Schools, a collaborative partnership between the district, community and city leaders and the United Way of Central Oklahoma to create community ownership in district outcomes. She is also the district’s school board representative to the Council of Great City Schools.
With 14 years of service as a school board member at North Rock Creek Public Schools, Rick Gowin has shown his dedication to his district and public education.
Gowin is dedicated to public education on the local and state level, providing opportunities for students not only at North Rock Creek Public Schools but across Oklahoma. He exemplifies the leadership qualities, boardmanship and teamwork of an outstanding school board member.
Gowin is also a member of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools, serving on the activity committee. Not only dedicated to providing opportunities to students in his district, Gowin travels across the state organizing and hosting academic and athletic state tournaments for almost 100 elementary schools. He is currently on the OSSBA Board of Directors.
Schilt’s two-decade-long service to the Adair Board of Education has had a tremendous impact on the district and community. He has led educational initiatives to provide all Adair students with numerous opportunities.
“Rodney has given of his personal time more than any other school board member,” Russ Langley, Adair school board member, said. “He consistently acts in the best interest of all students at Adair Public Schools.”
His career at Schilt Management Services has provided him with extensive experience with school construction projects, and he fully understands the project process from concept to funding to construction to completion. In 2021, Adair Public Schools was the recipient of the Luminous Eagle Award, recognizing the district for excellence in policies and practices to promote equitable conditions and improve academic outcomes for Native American students, an initiative in which Schilt assisted. He has also served on the OSSBA Board of Directors, the National School Boards Association Board of Directors and NSBA’s American Indian, Native American Council.
The All-State board is an honorary board that includes five of the most outstanding board members of the year. Nominations for the honor board and the distinguished service ward winner can come from superintendents or other board members. A committee of board members serving on OSSBA’s board of directors then review nominations and select that year’s winners, including choosing an All-State board member to receive the Buddy Spencer Leadership Award. The selection committee doesn’t include board members from nominee districts.
By W. Scott Abbott
There’s not just a single defining moment in my more than two decades serving on the school board in Fort Gibson that stands a lasting reminder of the importance of the work we do in helping educate the children of our communities. For me, it’s actually a moment that happens every week or so in our town that reminds me not every important life lesson taught at school happens in the classroom.
To be certain, of course, Fort Gibson students are taught from the beginning that reading, writing, math, social studies, science, the arts and teamwork are important. However, that’s not where the learning begins or ends.
Fort Gibson is blessed to be home to a national cemetery – a final place of honor and rest for the fallen. Our school’s staff and administration have taught our students that when they are outside as a funeral procession approaches, time stops. Students remove their hats, take a knee and quietly and reverently pay honor and respect to the fallen and their family. Recess comes to a halt. So do softball and baseball games.
Several times a year, school officials receive letters from people in a procession who witnessed this lesson of respect – the kind gesture of hope, of humanity and the evidence of appreciation for sacrifice. Retired military veterans get misty eyed when they turn the corner at the school and witness the show of respect from our students. Many times, our school board members have been brought to tears while reading these letters during board meetings.
We are in a season where we sometimes let what divides us take precedence over what unites us. We sometimes focus on disappointments rather than celebrating points of pride.
As school board members, we must be focused on improving – our community’s children are counting on it. They also want us and need us to celebrate their accomplishments!
During this year, when I’m honored to serve as president of OSSBA, I want to challenge board members to brag on schools, educators, school staff and students in your community like a proud parent or grandparent. We have awesome children and amazing faculty staff in Fort Gibson. I know the same is true in communities across the state, and we should be sharing that great news in our communities with our legislators and one another.
I want to use this space this year to help share brags from other board members so we can all celebrate the great moments and the amazing work being done in our public schools. You can submit them by visiting ossba.org/brag.
Thank you for your leadership and service. I hope you’ll accept the challenge to brag because I’m excited to hear more about what’s happening in your local schools!
W. Scott Abbott was elected as President of OSSBA at the Delegate Assembly, Aug. 28, 2021. He is a board member from Fort Gibson Public Schools and serves as a Region 8 Director for OSSBA.
OSSBA Staff Attorney
I’ve written before about my experiences as a father of black children. As a white male, I’m certainly not qualified to truly speak to the experiences of marginalized communities. But my experiences, as removed as they may be, might help illuminate others who, like myself, have not directly experienced discrimination and oppression. Being a witness to the experiences of my children, and my non-white and non-male friends, is exactly why I believe House Bill 1775 is harmful to our students and ultimately our state.
Regardless of the authors’ intent, the language of the bill doesn’t prohibit anything that’s actually being taught in Oklahoma schools. The bill prohibits Oklahoma school districts from teaching certain race and sex-related “concepts,” such as that one race or sex is superior to another; that people, because of their race or sex, are inherently racist or sexist, or bear responsibility for past discriminatory actions; or that people should feel “discomfort,” “guilt,” or “anguish” because of their race or sex.
School districts are teaching none of this. Lesson plans are not based on any of these “concepts.” So, you may be asking, “What’s the problem?” The problem is this: the language is clearly an attempt to chill classroom discussions of systemic racism and sexism. It’s an attempt to confuse teachers just enough that they’ll forego tough discussions about the uglier parts of our state and national history.
When we adopted our children, we were exposed to a world we thought died in the 1950s. Suddenly, our family was looked at differently by some people we’d always known. Some social invites ceased. Not all of them, but some.
Then, it became more direct. When my children, who experienced terrible trauma, displayed trauma-related behaviors, we were told more than once: “That’s what happens when you adopt black children. That’s how they are.”
Additional HB 1775 Resources
We’ve been told “that behavior is ‘bred’ into them,” as if they were livestock. Our children’s friends have said things like, “my mom calls you (insert racial slur).” Sometimes the racist comments are more subtle, such as “wow, your daughter speaks well.” Let’s be honest. If you’re white, you’ve heard language like this before, but it takes on a new significance when it’s directed at your children.
Those instances hurt and severely damaged relationships, but they were more than isolated instances of ignorance. These beliefs are small revelations that betray deeper societal and institutional philosophies.
For example, the first law passed in Oklahoma’s history enacted Jim Crow laws in railcars and street cars throughout the state. The first law passed.
Other discriminatory laws and practices deepened the oppression. Schools were segregated based on race, communities forced black residents to live in the most undesirable parts of town (and sometimes, such as in the Tulsa Race Massacre, destroyed those communities based on nothing more than an unproven allegation), and the insidious practice of categorizing majority black areas as high risk for lenders (otherwise known as “redlining”) made it largely impossible for black residents to obtain affordable mortgages. Unfortunately, our state’s history is not unique. It has been repeated over and over again.
This downward pressure resulted in many children, like ours, being born into debilitating poverty. Our children languished in DHS custody for far too long. They went to more schools than we can count – or didn’t go at all. When they did go, some teachers immediately stereotyped them or didn’t expect much from them.
Since white culture has been inundated with stories that imply black equals trouble, our children are one “suspicious” situation away from arrest and a criminal record. In comparison to their white peers, they are roughly four times more likely to be suspended and over three times more likely to be arrested at school. As adults, regardless of their educational achievements, they’ll be more likely to be unemployed than white people. Our son is six times more likely to end up in jail just because of the color of his skin.
That brings me to HB 1775. Clearly, the bill authors value the thought of a meritocratic society, but this philosophy rests on the proposition that a person’s place in life is based on individual effort and ability. We cannot be a true meritocracy unless everyone has the same opportunity to succeed or not succeed based on what they do, not on arbitrary categories like sex and race.
We won’t have equal opportunities until a light is shed on the discriminatory underpinnings of these institutional obstacles. We won’t be a true democracy until the wrongs are righted and the obstacles removed. We cannot shed that light, or right these wrongs, until these issues are acknowledged, discussed and studied. There is no better place to begin that process than in Oklahoma’s schools, so that our children can leave this state (and country) better than they found it.
I believe that not just my children’s future, but the survival of our republic, depends on open, robust discussion of our country’s peaks and valleys. Not to create guilt or place blame, but to understand, empathize and create change. If HB 1775 or other legislation suppresses these conversations, people will continue to suffer, and our country will continue to suffer. This conversation must continue. I hope you’ll join me in pushing back against this obstacle to democracy and keep the conversations alive.
A note to our members: OSSBA is committed to listening, learning and leading. Through our “Voices” feature, we will share stories and perspectives from our members and others on relevant topics. — OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime
OSSBA Staff Attorney
On May 7, 2021, the Oklahoma governor signed House Bill 1775, which included a detailed list of what teachers can’t teach in an Oklahoma classroom regarding race and sex. Fortunately for educators and for school districts, the toxic rhetoric around the bill bore little resemblance to the actual bill language.
Coming just before the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and during an important moment in the country’s reckoning with racism and sexism, the rhetoric in support of the bill was hurtful, unnecessary, and betrayed either a lack of knowledge of or a refusal to acknowledge the lasting damage of structural discrimination. The copy-paste language in the bill wasn’t a result of an issue in Oklahoma but rather mirrors legislation working its way through legislatures throughout the country.
Fortunately, the bill as signed needn’t change any of the important and necessary instruction around racism and sexism already being delivered in Oklahoma schools. The bill states that it does “not prohibit the teaching of concepts that align to the Oklahoma Academic Standards.” Thus, all topics listed in the standards are fair game and, in fact, still required to be taught (e.g., the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, etc.). Importantly, Oklahoma History standard 6.9 requires students to
Examine ongoing issues including immigration, employment, climate change, environmental pollution, globalization, population growth, race relations, women’s issues, healthcare, civic engagement, education and the rapid development of technology (emphasis added).
(Oklahoma’s U.S. History standards include a similar provision at USH.9.3.) This standard encourages broad and in-depth discussion of issues related to race and sex (although it is unfortunate that gender issues are not explicitly included in the language).
Further, the language of the bill does not seem to prohibit any discussions that are occurring with regularity in Oklahoma classrooms or other opportunities to tackle difficult current event topics.
Much of the rhetoric focused on “Critical Race Theory,” which is a method of examining society from the perspective that racism is socially constructed and built into various systems and institutions (e.g., law, education, housing, etc.). However, the bill never mentions this theory. Rather, it indicates that school districts shall not “require or make part of a course the following concepts):
• One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,
• An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,
• An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex,
• Members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex,
• An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex,
• An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,
• Any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex, or
• Meritocracy or traits such as hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.
Most of these items can be dealt with broadly. Oklahoma school districts are not encouraging, nor would they accept, teachers basing course requirements or lesson plans on the premise that one race is inherently superior to or more moral than another, or that certain races should be discriminated against. In fact, the Civil Rights Movement (which is included in the state’s academic standards) was a direct response to the horrific, discriminatory actions of the dominant white culture rooted in the belief that white people were a superior race. Further, school districts are not requiring or encouraging course requirements on the idea that racism is inherent in some people, as if part of their DNA. When racism is discussed, it is generally from the point of view that it is a taught and learned aspect of human behavior.
Also, it is highly unlikely that teachers are informing students that, because of their race or sex, they are responsible for historical racism, or trying to make them feel distress because of their race or sex. The point of teaching about historical (and current) forms of racism is to help students understand the mistakes of the past, consider how racism manifests itself today, and have informed conversations about how to progress. HB 1775 should not prevent a thoughtful discussion about learned or structural discrimination and how it affects particular groups in our country.
Further, rhetoric that the students will be convinced that “meritocracy” and “hard work ethic” are racist or sexist is misguided. Teachers generally ask students to examine not whether these are inherently discriminatory concepts, but whether the United States is a true meritocracy if certain groups lack the same opportunities as others. Thoughtful, in-depth, challenging conversations from this point of view are not prohibited by the statutory language and are appropriate for classroom discussion.
In summary, House Bill 1755’s language does not prohibit the teaching of any concepts in the Oklahoma Academic Standards, nor does it prohibit challenging classroom discussions about racism and sexism in America. Educators and district leaders shouldn’t get caught up in the rhetoric that surrounded the bill. Oklahoma school districts should continue teaching all topics in the Oklahoma Academic Standards and should feel empowered to have challenging conversations about critical topics, especially racism and sexism in America.
This article will be published in the Summer 2021 edition of the OSSBA Journal.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, statement on passage of Senate Bill 229:
“SB 229 is a monumental bill years in the making. Oklahoma is one of only four states that fails to provide state funding to help schools with capital needs, and our state has notable equity gaps in student access to quality, safe buildings; modern technology infrastructure; and safe transportation.
Every Oklahoma student deserves schools that are clean, safe, well maintained and conducive to learning. This bill is a critical investment in Oklahoma children and their success. We are grateful to legislators for their support, and we especially want to thank Rep. Kyle Hilbert and Sen. John Michael Montgomery for their leadership and collaboration in seeking a solution to address this issue. “