McAlester grad announces state education superintendent candidacy

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Jul. 12—A McAlester graduate and Oklahoma's secretary of education announced Monday he will run for state superintendent of education.

Ryan Walters, a 2004 McAlester High School graduate, announced Monday he will seek Oklahoma's State Superintendent of Education office in the 2022 election. Walters told the News-Capital his top priorities will be improving access for students, recruiting and maintaining teachers, education reform, and more — with his focus on students.

"We've got to make sure that everything we're doing from the agency level, from the political level, from the school level is what's best for students on an individual basis," Walters told the News-Capital.

Gov. Kevin Stitt named Walters the state's secretary of education in September 2020 and is set to attend his campaign kickoff event Monday evening.

Oklahoma's Republican Superintendent Joy Hofmeister can't seek reelection due to term limits and two candidates already filed for the 2022 race — Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent April Grace and Peggs Public Schools Superintendent John Cox.

Grace is a longtime educator who became Shawnee's superintendent in 2016. Cox, a 35-year educator, previously ran as a Democrat against Hofmeister in 2014 and 2018, but he switched registration to Republican.

All three candidates are Republicans.

Walters attended McAlester Public Schools, where he said many teachers motivated him to become a teacher after graduating from McAlester High School in 2004.

He attended Harding University and returned to his alma mater as a teacher in 2011 as a special education teacher and later teaching advanced placement history.

Walters won MPS Teacher of the Year in 2015 and was a 2016 finalist for the Oklahoma State Department of Education's Teacher of the Year.

He said seeing businesses willing to help in education efforts in the McAlester area and facing education challenges every day while at MPS helped him in finding solutions.

"Getting to work with administrators, the staff and the community — and getting to really talk about the issues facing our education system has been tremendous for me," Walters said.

Walters left McAlester in 2019 to become executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, a nonprofit involving businesses in education that functionally became Every Kid Counts Oklahoma in 2020.

Every Kid Counts Oklahoma is non-partisan education reform effort focused on providing resources to Oklahoma educators, parents and community leaders.

Walters said one of his priorities will be student access to education, and improving access to virtual and blended models across Oklahoma.

"If we're going to lead the country in education, one thing we have to look at is ensuring that every student has that pathway to be successful — and that looks different for every student," Walters said.

Walters teaches blended AP history courses at McAlester and Millwood Public Schools and said he's seen it work well for some students and not so much for others.

He said the more resources available for school districts in technology, staffing and more will ultimately help the students.

Walters said blended models can help schools financially while offering classes otherwise unavailable — and bring in more teachers.

"One thing I'm passionate about is making sure we're attracting our best and keeping our best and highest-quality teachers and we're not losing them," Walters said.

Walters said he is proud of funding gains for education in the state over the past few legislative sessions.

He said that momentum is something on which he hopes to build.

"I think Oklahoma should be the best state in the country for education," Waters said. "When I talk to teachers, that's what they want. When I talk to parents, that's what they want. And most importantly, that's what our kids deserve."

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

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