The Norman Transcript

November 18, 2013

School superintendents deliver state of the schools to chamber members

Siano, Bowen appear before about 60 chamber members and guests

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 where the 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, 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 were also mentioned such as the average ACT scores of NPS outpacing both state and national averages. Additionally, Siano said the NPS system had 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 minus as well as the D letter grades four Norman Public Schools were given was addressed. Siano said that he believed the state grading system to be faulty and 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 that his biggest problem with the A-F grading 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 the fact that less state funding has made an impact. 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 explained to event attendees that currently there is a big skills gap throughout the U.S. and the world.

“Thirty percent of 9th graders will drop out before completing high school and 10 percent of 9th 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 workforce.

“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 that over 500 businesses in the MNTC district were served by MNTC 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 was also awarded the 2013 Small Business Association Incubator of the Year award.

Bowen said that MNTC had passed its additional one mill building levy funds and that 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 and 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.”

Katherine Parker