'We made it': Celebration breakfast returns for McAlester schools after challenging year

·2 min read

May 28—Randy Hughes knows it was a challenging year — and knows the monumental task school employees faced.

The McAlester Public Schools superintendent thanked teachers and staff during Friday's breakfast and ceremony for their efforts to adjust during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been one of the toughest years," Hughes said. "It's been 39 years for me in education and I cannot remember a year that's been more difficult than this."

He reflected on the challenges the district faced after the global pandemic led the Oklahoma State Board of Education to shutter school buildings for the rest of the 2020 academic year.

MPS accelerated its initiative to have one technological device for every student. Teachers learned new instruction methods and technology to reach students virtually. The district worked with the city of McAlester to install dozens of new wifi hotspots to help students without internet access at home. Free meals were delivered on buses to met students.

The district implemented COVID-19 prevention protocols, which have been mitigated as data continue to show a decline in the area.

"We made it through — you made it through," Hughes told employees. "And you did a job that's so extraordinary, other schools were calling us saying 'how did your teachers do that?'"

The superintendent took a moment to remember school employees lost throughout the last year, including longtime educator James Brown who died following COVID-19 complications.

School officials thanked employees for their efforts during the breakfast event.

The event started with MPS Assistant Superintendent Don Wise thanking teachers and staff for their efforts through the pandemic.

"It's because of you and the hard work that you did that we can say we're doing great things," Wise said.

Chad Gragg gave an invocation before school officials recognized retiring faculty and staff — including a standing ovation for Robert Williamson, retiring form the transportation department after 39 years.

The retiring faculty and staff include:

Billy Anderson, 14 years

Sean DeNike, 30 years

Nancy Ezell, 24 years

Brent Grilliot, 29 years

Charles Geis, 14 years

Stephanie Holt Lucas, 25 years

Jan Jackson, 28 years

Kelly Jones, 10 years

Janice Parrott, 29 years

Mia Smith, 28 years

Robin Steidley, 25 years

Serena Underwood, 25 years

Robert Williamson, 39 years

School officials also recognized faculty and staff for five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 years of service with the district.

William Gay Principal Kathy Hunt was recognized for 40 years with the district.

Sharla Homer was recognized for 35 years of service, while Tim Collier and Sean DeNike were recognized for 30 years.

Faculty members Stephanie Holt Lucas, Robin Steidley, and Larry Taylor received recognition for 25 years, and Barbara Billos, Amy Nohelty, and Prentice Redman were recognized for 20 years.

Staff members Carla Bales, Kay Jones, Rosalyn Jones, David Traut and Serena Underwood were also recognized for 25 years with the district.

Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com

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