By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Norman Public Schools and the Moore Norman Technology Center were put under the spotlight at the Norman Chamber of Commerce “State of Schools” event Monday morning.
NPS Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano and Moore Norman Technology Center Superintendent Jane Bowen took the opportunity to brag about their respective schools and update community members as to challenges the schools face.
Siano, who was named superintendent in 2000 after working in Oklahoma City and Putnam City districts, began his discussion of Norman Public Schools by briefly mentioning the various NPS programs available to students, such as pre-school programs and full-day kindergarten offered at every elementary school, district-wide health services provided in conjunction with Norman Regional Health System, pre-AP classes in middle school and the new French immersion program.
Several NPS achievements also were mentioned, such as average ACT scores at NPS outpacing state and national averages. Additionally, Siano said the NPS system successfully completed 2009 bond issue projects on time.
With the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s A-F grades still fresh on the community’s mind, Norman Public School district’s B- and four schools’ D grades were addressed.
Siano said that he believes the state grading system is faulty and is an inaccurate measure of the equity existing between all NPS schools.
“Teachers are doing what we hired them to do,” Siano said. “Raises in math and reading scores (at schools with D ratings) indicate to us that our process is working in our more challenging schools.”
Additionally, Siano said he didn’t think any accountability system could really measure the complexity of schools, but his biggest problem with the system was its misleading effects.
“I have a problem with how the state advertised the A-F grading system. My contingent is that A-F is misleading in effectiveness. It’s been advertised as an easy assessment for parents, but it really leads parents to the wrong conclusions,” he said.
Lastly, Siano went over NPS finances and said less state funding has impacted the district. Since Fiscal Year 2008, Oklahoma has had the third largest drop in spending per student in the country; a reduction of 20.3 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 2012 report.
“These cuts make a significant difference, especially when you’re trying to raise standards,” Siano said.
He also emphasized the importance of the proposed 2014 bond of $126 million. Board members envision a freshman academy at both high schools, as well continued investments in technology and additional classrooms to deal with overcrowding.
Siano said because of less state funding, passing the bond was essential.
“I think we’ve met challenges over the past 10 years and will continue to do so,” he said.
Bowen began as MNTC superintendent in 2012. Previously, she was the superintendent of Northwest Technology Center in Alva. Bowen has 36 years of experience in the education field and began her career as a counselor.
Bowen said there is a large skills gap throughout the U.S. and the world.
“Thirty percent of ninth-graders will drop out before completing high school, and 10 percent of ninth-graders will lack the skills needed for employment,” Bowen said. “Forty percent will come out of school with no skills for a job, but look at where the jobs are. Sixty-five percent of jobs require an associate’s degree or advanced training.”
However, Bowen said a career tech renaissance was occurring because it is relevant, hands-on and requires working in groups, much like the real work force.
“These forgotten 40 percent need to know that the pathway to heaven is to be both career ready and college ready,” Bowen said.
MNTC provides high school students and adults with affordable technical training in the areas of business and information technology careers, health careers and technical careers in 48 programs of study. Bowen said more than 500 businesses in the MNTC district were served last year.
Moore Norman Technology Center was a 2012-2013 Gold Star School recipient and had 31 first-place state organization winners in Business Professionals of America, HOSA and Skills USA last year. MNTC also was awarded the 2013 Small Business Association Incubator of the Year award.
Bowen said MNTC had passed its additional one-mill building levy funds and such a measure spoke of how dedicated the community is to MNTC. The tech center’s current five-year strategic plan will focus on economic development, building relationships and innovative technology.
In her final remarks, Bowen read an Albert Einstein quote about a fish who thought he was stupid because he was judged by the fact that he couldn’t climb a tree. She asked attendees to help MNTC by advocating for the school and its students.
“Please help me and let people know that career tech is worth something to everyone,” she said. “Let’s not have those 40 percent think they’re stupid. They have things they can give back to our society.”
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