NORMAN — State educators gathered Friday night during the University of Oklahoma Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education’s annual Celebration of Education in Oklahoma at the OU Memorial Union to recognize the efforts of educators throughout the community and state.
Olympic gold medalist and OU alumnus Bart Conner received the Award of Distinction for his efforts in physical education through his gymnastics-related businesses.
Conner’s Norman gym, Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, home to more than 1,200 gymnasts ages 2 to 18, recently began offering a free program for Norman Public School students with special needs.
The program, called Autism Moves, is what Conner said he hopes is his greatest legacy from the academy. Every week 110 Norman students with intellectual disabilities use the gym for free to participate in a physical fitness and movement education program.
“We are hearing enormous stories of how these students are flourishing and we’re unlocking gifts of these students who have intellectual challenges,” Conner said during his award acceptance speech. “I am enormously grateful that we can merge our talents with what we’re doing with the good things you’re doing in Norman Public School, especially in helping a population of students with special needs.”
Before he began his speech, the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Conner who celebrated his 56th birthday on Friday. He followed up the song by doing a cartwheel — a dare from his wife, Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci.
Several other educators were acknowledged during the celebration.
Amy Simpson and Shelley McMillin, principals at Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementary schools in Moore, were honored with the special Exemplary Leadership and Service Award. The two received a standing ovation from the audience for their leadership during and after the May 20, 2013, tornado that leveled both of their schools.
Heather Goodenough, secondary social studies instructional specialist at Broken Arrow Public Schools, received the Young Educators Award for her involvement in many educational organizations including OU K20 Center, Oklahoma Secondary Social Studies Association Consortium and the Oklahoma Alliance for Geographic Education.