By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma school administrators ready for a change listened attentively and applauded vigorously as five candidates for state superintendent of public instruction discussed their opinions and goals.
Candidates each had the opportunity to answer four questions in a political debate at the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) summer conference Friday. The debate was moderated by Alex Cameron, of News 9.
Republican candidates for the position include current State Superintendent Dr. Janet Barresi, Joy Hofmeister and Brian Kelly. Democratic candidates for the position include Dr. John Cox, Dr. Freda Deskin, Dr. Jack Herron and Dr. Ivan Holmes. Barresi and Kelly were not present for the debate.
1. What is your platform and vision for Oklahoma and how does that set you apart from other candidates?
The only Republican candidate to appear at the debate, Hofmeister said she was compelled to run because of current failed leadership and discussed three important goals of her platform.
First, Hofmeister said more time should be put on instruction and less on testing. Second, she said she believes in reliable accountability and that the A-F grading system should be fixed to produce reliable, valuable and accurate information.
“We also need to set high expectations but make sure to provide support,” she said of her last platform point.
Next, Cox said the most important thing to this election is that someone who is an educator and trained to be in that position is elected.
“This is my 20th year I just finished as a school superintendent. Eight years before that, I was a teacher, and I think that’s powerful. Also, the fact that I am an adjunct professor at NSU, where I actually teach teachers to become superintendents and principals. ... I think that’s valuable information to go in and for the state department to have,” Cox said.
About how she stood out from the other candidates, Deskin said “Experience counts. In the last election people apparently didn’t think that; at least they didn’t vote that way. And I think leadership counts, but I think successful leadership and successful experience counts more. And I have a track record in both of those areas.”
“We haven’t had any leadership,” Herron said about why he was running, adding that he was ready to provide leadership through collaboration if elected.
Holmes said he was different from the other candidates. After hearing the horror stories of the current state of education, Holmes said he decided to find out for himself and drove to and visited with 399 superintendents.
“Every one of told me the same thing: ‘I could write a book about what’s going on in education.’ And it was much worse than I thought it was,” he said. “We’re living in a state where we’re last in funding. Living in a state where teachers are quitting and don’t control the classroom. We’re in a crisis ... We can’t let the current superintendent remain in office.”
2. Do you oppose or support House Bill 3399?
Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 3399 on Thursday. The bill repealed and replaced Common Core standards in English and math and directed the State Board of Education to create new, more rigorous standards by August 2016.
Hofmeister told debate attendees that she had written a letter to Fallin to repeal Common Core.
“Oklahomans have to have confidence that they’re vetted with standards that reflect Oklahoma values,” she said. “It’s time to come together and exceed what is common.”
Cox said he saw opportunity in HB 3399.
“Six months from now, we will have the opportunity to bring everyone together. We will bring together teachers in every area, every grade level and every discipline and rebuild what we had.”
Cox said rebuilding Oklahoma standards would create buy-in and he believed teachers were looking for more control and direction in their classrooms.
“Allowing that teacher the freedom to teach again is extremely important,” he said.
Deskin said if elected, she would look out for what’s best for students and that after reading Common Core, she found positives and negatives.
“I saw some flaws in those lower levels. I wasn’t real happy that some classical literature was removed, and I liked a lot of the critical thinking skills that were tested,” Deskin said. “But it has become so controversial.
“And people are so confused about this issue that it’s time we bring educators to the table to rewrite not only the ESAE waiver but to rewrite the standards like we used to do. We are as good as any state. We can do it and we will do it.”
Herron said he doesn't support Common Core and would utilize collaboration, if elected.
“I assure you when we change the person in the position up there in the state department of education, we will collaborate with everyone and work to re-establish the Oklahoma standards,” Herron said.
“One good thing, this opens the opportunity for local control,” Holmes said. “... It’s all up to us now. They’ve opened the door because it’s total chaos out there, as far as what’s happening in education.”
3. What do you think about school choice?
Hofmeister said that state doesn’t know best and that she supports a parent’s choice, including home schoolers, virtual school, Advanced Placement and charter schools.
Cox said he believed parents already have the ability to choose their child’s education within the public school system, referring to open transfers.
“Myself, I don’t want them (home school, virtual school and charters) taking the valuable dollars that we have that we need to serve. They need to look for their own money. We need those valuable dollars to come into our public schools.”
Deskin said she does not believe in the expansion of charters into rural areas. All of the charters are public charters and are held to state and federal mandates, just like any other school in the state.
“We have charters that are only in the inner city, and that’s what charters were intended for,” she said.
Herron read from a State Department of Education bulletin that he said could be found online.
“’Charter schools are public schools that are allowed greater flexibility for greater accountability.’ For example, and I’ve studied this and checked it, charter schools are not required to adhere to the teacher and leader effectiveness standards.” Herron said, then indicated to Deskin as he continued. “And one of the candidates here today, her school is not doing that.”
Holmes discussed the American Legislature Exchange Council, which he said is funded by millionaires whose mission is to destroy public schools and replace them with charter schools. He said he is not against choosing to attend charter schools but against charter schools taking funding away from public education.
4. Per pupil funding has continually been reduced for the past five years. Do you believe our state schools are adequately funded? If yes, why? If no, what would you do to increase per pupil funding?
Hofmeister said this past year, she was appalled at the lack of preparation she saw in education advocates before the legislature.
“We must have an advocate in the State Department of Education who will go before the legislature and address our needs,” Hofmeister said.
Cox said he was ready to fight to increase per pupil funding.
“We’ve got to get out there and fight. I tell you what, superintendents and administrators are sometimes our worst problem. They cut us. We fix it. They cut us again. We fix it. Right now, we’re at a point that we can’t fix it anymore. We have to fix that stream of money back.”
Deskin said she believes current leaders have let the state down and that the state needs to streamline its current formula.
“Money’s spent on the mandates and the testing companies and everything else but not on our children, not on our teachers and not on our schools.”
In his closing remarks, Herron encouraged attendees to do research on each candidate and know who they were voting for.
“Good Lord willing, we’re going to change the culture here come June 24.”
Holmes said to obtain adequate funding, he would talk to everyone, including teachers, parents and administration to gain support like that which turned out for the recent education rally at the state Capitol.
“Our kids deserve the best public education funding and to control our own destiny,” Holmes said.
Hofmeister is a former public school teacher. Since 2000, she has owned and operated a small business in Tulsa specializing in helping children reach their educational goals. She is also a member of the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
Her four children attended Jenks Public Schools K-12 and for 19 years, she has been a member of the Jenks Public Schools Foundation. For more information, see JoyForOklahoma.com.
Cox has 28 years in public education as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent. He is president of Organization of Rural Elementary Schools and vice chair of the Oklahoma Schools Assurance Group. He also is a Northeastern State University alumni member. For more information, visit okeducation.us.
Deskin has 15 years of experience in the classroom. She has degrees in elementary and secondary education, a Ph.D. in instructional leadership, certification in strategic management from Harvard and post-doctoral work in the area of finance. She has developed curriculum for the American Institute of Architects, NASA, Challenger Center for Space Science Education, EPCOT Center, Experimental Aircraft Association, school districts and universities. For more information, visit deskinforkids.com.
Herron is a past assistant state superintendent for financial services and currently works as government relations director for Professional Oklahoma Educators. For 11 years, he served as the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics’ Outreach coordinator and Regional Centers director. For more information, visit herronforoklahoma.com.
Holmes is a veteran and 40-year educator in the classroom. He is the former State Democratic Party chairman. Holmes is also the author of the nationally published books titled “What is a Master Teacher?” and “Athletics on Top and Academics on Bottom.” For more, visit ivanholmes.com.
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