Guest: Divisive politics will not help improve Oklahoma's education system
This week, lawmakers will gather at the Capitol for the start of legislative session. Representatives from across the state have an opportunity to make a significant impact on future generations of Oklahomans by further improving education.
While much of the election cycle was dominated by divisive culture war talking points, many elected officials spent tireless hours behind the scenes to focus on the true issues at hand.
As a lifelong Oklahoma educator, I’m grateful for the countless members of the House and Senate who have been intentional about listening to teachers, parents and administrators throughout the state. This legislative session features some encouraging proposals to address issues such as reducing class sizes, investing in crucial reading programs, providing students with adequate resources and maintaining a strong teacher pipeline.
Culture war campaigning may generate headlines, but it does nothing to improve the education outcomes of our state’s 700,000 public school students.
What we have seen elevate student success are initiatives and programs pioneered by public school districts of all sizes. I’m pleased to share some examples from across the state on how schools are implementing innovative new ideas to further serve our students, families and communities.
Lawton Public Schools is in the second year of utilizing its Life Ready Center ― a campus that serves students from all three Lawton high schools by providing more opportunities based on student preferences and choices. The center offers AP courses, concurrent college courses and career-focused electives such as robotics and architecture. By shuttling students from the three high schools, the district combines resources to offer more unique and applicable courses.
In northwest Oklahoma, we’re seeing a program that introduces middle school students to numerous career options and hands-on vocational education. High Plains Technology Center has partnered with Woodward Public Schools and surrounding rural districts to create the Technical Applications Programs (TAP). The elective partners with community leaders and local businesses to provide students with fundamental STEM skills through real-life application to specific industries and careers.
Here in the Oklahoma City metro area, one district is utilizing numerous education partnerships to create a unique STEM academy centered around one of our state’s most important industries ― aviation. The Oklahoma Aviation Academy at Norman Public Schools is a one-of-a-kind program that connects students to the high-tech aerospace industry through focuses in pilot licenses, drone certifications, aviation maintenance, computer science and engineering.
Districts across the state such as Sand Springs have designed hybrid and virtual programs that allow for students and families the flexibility to receive a quality virtual education from Oklahoma Certified teachers. For families who choose a virtual option, students are provided a flexible learning schedule that aligns with Oklahoma Academic State Standards and still provides full participation in on-site extracurricular activities with their fellow students. One such program initiated by Newcastle Public Schools has expanded to multiple counties and school districts to help serve rural students.
Following the success stories of these and other school districts, lawmakers have the opportunity this session to further improve our learning environments and ensure our kids have the tools they need to thrive.
Divisive politics, vilifying teachers and private school vouchers are not the answer to improving our state’s education. Instead, educators and lawmakers must prioritize authentic collaboration, mutual respect and a focus on what matters most ― our students.
Dr. Pam Deering is the executive director for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA). She was inducted into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame in 2019.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Guest: Oklahoma lawmakers have opportunities to prioritize education