On April 6, some Norman voters will get an opportunity to have a say in Norman Public Schools’ leadership.

The April NPS Board of Education Office No. 1 race will see current board president Dirk O’Hara face challenger Pixie Quigley. Office No. 1 covers 14 precincts in south Norman; voters can see if their district is included in this election on the Cleveland County Election Board’s website.

The board, which meets publicly at least once a month, has final approval on district hires, policy changes, contracts and purchase orders, the annual district calendar and more; members also regularly hear updates on issues like school bond project progress. The five members serve staggered five-year terms. In the last year, monthly board meetings have been the site of sometimes-heated community discussions about back-to-school plans or COVID-19 safety.

O’Hara and Quigley each answered the same four questions from The Transcript to give voters an idea of their qualifications and visions. Read on to learn more about each candidate.

Dirk O’Hara

Please tell readers a little about your background. What experience and insight would you bring to this position?

I moved to Norman in 1987 to attend OU and left in 1995 after finishing graduate school. I returned in 1999 to work in healthcare. My wife Stephanie and I have three children: Aidan, 13 attending Alcott, Stella and Smith, 5, attending Monroe in the fall. I have worked with and led businesses and nonprofits using my experiences in management, finance, construction, human resources and creative problem solving. I enjoy diversity in thought and listening to all ideas to reach the best solutions. I have served on the school board for six years and am the current president.

In talking with voters and NPS community members, what do you see as the biggest issues or priorities your future constituents are facing right now?

School safety is the biggest concern for families of students. Outside of COVID there are other areas of safety. First is school shootings. Officers on site through our partnership with the Student Resource Officers is proven as the best deterrent. Second are tornadoes and building safety. Thanks to our taxpayers we passed the largest bond in NPS history allowing us to finish building safe rooms for all school sites and continue safety through technology. Third is technology filters, and I believe in protecting students from unwanted sites. Last is bullying and supporting diversity training to accept all students while being kind.

What motivated you to run for this position and serve the district, specifically via a seat on the Board of Education?

I firmly believe public education is the future of everything! There is no more important version of volunteer service than supporting public schools.The desire to serve the community, children, teachers and create the best future for all students is why I seek to continue on the Board. Every student deserves an equal opportunity and equitable method to be prepared and inspired to reach their full potential. My success is rooted in the public education I received. It is imperative to support, give back, and pay it forward for all of the incredible experiences generated through previous teachers and mentors.

Where do you stand on school safety measures when it comes to COVID-19 and public health?

Our teachers have done an incredible job of teaching to our students in person, virtually, and blended between the two. These continued options for families are vital to keep our kids safe during the pandemic and balancing COVID with public health. With over 50% of our students receiving free/reduced lunches, we have many kids at-risk. When they are in school, these kids are less at risk for physical, mental, sexual, and drug abuse. While attending school it is imperative we wear masks, socially distance, disinfect surfaces, and utilize fresh air much as possible to protect teachers, students, and the community.

Pixie Quigley

Please tell readers a little about your background. What experience and insight would you bring to this position?

This is my 21st year as an NPS parent, so I’ve experienced the ebb and flow of progress through two district administrations. Community engagement is crucial to creating sustainable policies, and as a full time advocate, the majority of my time is spent interacting with the community. My primary focuses are diversity/inclusion, poverty/homelessness and sexual violence and abuse, particularly in relation to youth.

Community involvement/leadership includes: PTA, The Spot/Bridges, Norman Pride, NIMPA, Norman Community Advocacy Team (nCAT), LearnSafeNorman, Women’s Resource Center, Girl Scouts, Mary Abbott House, Sharing Tree Exchange, Unhoused Norman Outreach (UNO) and the Inclusive Community Subcommittee.

In talking with voters and NPS community members, what do you see as the biggest issues or priorities your future constituents are facing right now, and where do you stand on them?

Advocacy: The primary objective of a BOE is to advocate for students, families, teachers/staff, and the community it serves — not to be a mouthpiece for the district it governs.

Communication/Transparency: No issues should be put to a vote until community input has been considered and publicly discussed.

Diversity/Equity/Inclusion: We have to ensure that we’re addressing the needs of all marginalized and underserved groups. We can’t expect to close the equity gap unless all students and staff feel safe in our schools.

Oversight: Without oversight to evaluate efficacy and monitor progress, we can never truly move forward.

What motivated you to run for this position and serve the district specifically via a seat on the Board of Education?

The community deserves a board that works for them, not for the district. I’ve been in daily contact with teachers and parents from across the district since this summer, not as a potential school board candidate, but as an advocate. I recognized a need, and I felt compelled to address it. The board may represent the district, but they first and foremost serve and represent the community; a dedicated and effective board helps steer a steady path, even when change is difficult or controversial. My aim is not only to find sustainable solutions, but to inspire real progress.

Where do you stand on school safety measures when it comes to COVID-19 and public health?

I’ve spent the past seven months advocating for the safety and well-being of our kids and teachers. I founded nCAT last summer, and our Learn Safe Norman initiative has provided a forum for teachers to interact with parents and advocates so that we can help address their needs throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve coordinated drives and fundraisers for desk shields and cleaning supplies, ensured distribution of PPE supplies and created a ‘transparency database’ of public records. We also developed a Safe Reopening Plan for high-need, at-risk and SPED students, but never received a response from the district or the board.

Emma Keith covers Norman Public Schools and the University of Oklahoma for The Transcript. Reach her at ekeith@normantranscript.com or at @emma_ckeith.

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Emma Keith covers the coronavirus pandemic and education for The Norman Transcript, with a focus on Norman Public Schools and The University of Oklahoma. She is a 2019 OU graduate.