By Patrick B. McGuigan
This year’s school elections for Oklahoma City feature a total of three races, including two board seats and the district-wide Chairman’s post.
In all, the six candidates who filed across the three races make this one of the highest years for participation in decades. The most visible contest is for the chairman’s position, where the incumbent faces a vigorous challenge, followed by the “open” District 1 race in which a well-known city leader hopes to win the majority of votes over a candidate whose campaign has not been highly visible.
All six candidates on the Tuesday, Feb. 12 ballot were asked about local public school concerns by the staff of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Their responses can be found online at the Foundation’s website: http://okckids.com/school-board-election-set-for-feb-12/
Incumbent Chair Angela Monson, a former state Senator who works at the OU Health Sciences Center, faces a strong challenge from Lynne Hardin, a businesswoman and civic activist who promises to press for classroom improvements and other reforms.
Every voter living in the Oklahoma City Public School District is eligible to vote in this district-wide election, whereas the other two races are only for voters residing in those districts.
Hardin, a Northwest Classen graduate, is president and CEO of Integrated Solutions. She has drawn editorial endorsements from both Friday newspaper and The Black Chronicle, giving her a boost in an competitive election where voter turnout is traditionally low.
Hardin told the Foundation, “I think it is valuable that the district is trying to identify some of the major issues in our OKCPS. And while it is ambiguous as to how the A-F grading system is determined, we have established a baseline that will allow us to better acknowledge our challenges, which is the first step toward making a change.
“On the other side of this is the amount of teaching time taken away from the classroom to fulfill some of these requirements. Like most residents, I am shocked and saddened the situation at [Frederick A.] Douglass High School occurred. We must make certain we have accountability throughout the district and a consistent auditing of transcripts so we do not risk anything with such lifelong consequences to happen again.”
A former state Senator and member of the Northeast Academy PTSA, Monson is seeking a second term.
In her comments to the Foundation, Monson said, “Although more attention has been given to the District’s academic failures than improvements, the most recent academic measures note substantial improvement in many areas. Certainly much greater improvements must be made. Yet, the increases which are being seen this year are certainly a result of the efforts of many over that past few years.
“Also significant, over the past four years the District was able to not only survive but actually improve its financial footing while facing a period of extreme financial cutbacks. That success is attributable to the willingness of the administration and the Board to protect student priorities, make difficult decisions about programmatic and staff reductions, and in the case of many, take on additional duties and work without compensation.”
In the open District 1 (the north end of the city), community-leader and Northwest Classen High School graduate Bob Hammack is working hard to defeat E. Jann Maultsby, who came to Oklahoma from Florida.
Hammack, a 40-year veteran of the advertising business, expressed concern over the recent scandal at Frederick A. Douglass High School, where many seniors are having to take night classes to fill in gaps in their academic achievements that were not noted until this year. He described as “unacceptable” that and the “D” grade given to Centennial High in the state Education Department’s A-F grading system.
An advocate of public schools and member of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, Hammock was reluctant criticize district leadership, but said he was running for office because of his concern over the district’s low performance scores. Concerning local educators, he reflected, “I think the most significant thing is being open to new ways to educate students. Change is seldom easy and it requires courage to say ‘this is not working, let’s find something that will.’ Many people resist change because puts them ground that they are not familiar. The disappointing Report Card scores indicate that there is much room for improvement in the current strategic plan.”
Hammack says that if he wins he will support strong principals, early childhood education programs and strong leadership from the local superintendent and board.
Maultsby did not provide responses to most questions posed by the Foundation.
The most unusual race may be that in District 2, on the near northside (portions of the MidCity and MidTown areas). Justin Ellis, new to elective politics, is on the ballot against two-term incumbent Gail Vines. Vines did not formally withdraw from the race, but shortly after filing closed she suspended her campaign. After meeting with Ellis, Vines says she supports him in the race.
Ellis told the Foundation, “A major concern of mine is the inability of our third graders to read at grade level. This in turn is leading to our large high school drop-out rate. A major challenge is the lack of awareness and communication between administration, staff, teachers and parents. The district is a business where consumers are the children. The children are our future community leaders so we must serve them better.”
Ellis praised voters and city leaders for their work on MAPS for Kids, which brought historic transformation of school physical plants over the last 12 years. He says that is a model for the kind of work now needed to boost student achievement and other priorities.
Vines, a two-term incumbent, told the Foundation she supports Ellis in the February 12 election.