By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has announced the recipients of its 2020 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence Award. The five Oklahoma public school educators are being recognized for their academic excellence, innovation and impact.
Each of the five honorees will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture, designed by the late Oklahoma artist Ron Roberts and produced by Artistic Glass Studio of Edmond.
This year’s Medal for Excellence honorees are: Michelle Rahn, Shelley Self, Chuck McCauley, Dr. David Bass and Dr. Edralin Lucas.
“Oklahomans know that education is the best investment we can make for our future,” said Cathryn Render, president of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization that encourages academic excellence in the state’s public schools.
“By honoring these exceptional educators, we are sending a message that we value excellence in public schools and the professionals who have given so much of themselves to enrich the lives of our children.”
Michelle Rahn, recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Elementary Teaching, teaches sixth-grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore. Beginning as a small business owner, she discovered her love for teaching and pursued a degree in elementary education.
Rahn led the charge for her district to focus on STEM education by receiving a $23,000 grant to start Claremore’s first elementary STEM program at Westside Elementary School and now works to expand STEM education at Will Rogers Junior High.
“Michelle encompasses all the qualities that make a great STEM teacher,” said colleague Ranetta Eidson. “She creates a classroom environment that allows students to problem-solve, work collaboratively in groups, construct with their hands, and think critically and creatively.”
Rahn’s students have worked to design a Mars Rover and lander and after reading the memoir “Rocket Boys,” they designed and built their own rockets. Through inquiry-based investigations, her students observe natural phenomena, collecting data to develop their own hypotheses and conducting peer reviews as teams.
Rahn volunteers after school to host an all-girls STEM Club, which re-engineers old toys to accommodate students with cognitive disabilities. She is a 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalist and recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.
Shelley Self, the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching recipient, is a National Board Certified teacher and art educator at Coweta High School for 28 years.
“Her impact in arts education reaches far beyond the students in her classroom,” said Kathleen Blake, an Oklahoma City arts educator. “She is an over-the-top secondary teacher committed to advancing the arts in her school, community and our state.”
Shelley challenges students to discover creativity through researching, expanding their experiences, sharpening their synthesizing skills and discovering more about themselves.
Self is the recipient of the Oklahoma Art Educator of the Year and the Milken National Educator Award. Many of her former students have gone on to become artists, art educators and arts advocates. Many of her former students have gone on to become artists, art educators and arts advocates.
Chuck McCauley, superintendent of Bartlesville Public Schools. Is the recipient of the Medal for Excellence in Elementary/Secondary Administration. McCauley assumed the post in 2016, which was facing a dire budget situation and low morale. In just three years, McCauley has led the passage of two historic bond issues, engaged stakeholders to develop and execute a strategic plan, and expanded opportunities for students.
“McCauley earned his way to the district’s top post through a soft-spoken leadership style combining humility with intelligence and drive – a combination that naturally attracts others toward a shared vision of a better future for all children,” said Dan Droege, a founder of Bartlesville’s Public Education Advocates for Kids.
In his first 100 days as superintendent, McCauley engaged students and parents, and district employees and community members to help create a three-year strategic plan. The district has implemented new programs, including a 1:1 Student Computing Initiative providing Chromebook computers for all students in grades 6-12; Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum for all K-5 classes; and a new agriculture program for secondary students.
Many of those projects, as well as facility improvements, were made possible through the passage of a $19.4 million bond issue in 2016 and a $17.9 bond issue in 2019. The first bond issue was critical in saving teaching positions and protecting class sizes.
During the education funding crisis in 2018, McCauley encouraged fellow state superintendents to suspend school so teachers and parents could lobby at the State Capitol. He and his school board worked with Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville), to develop a bipartisan funding plan that would eventually provide for $6,000 teacher pay raises.
Dr. David Bass, a professor of biology and curator of invertebrates at the University of Central Oklahoma, is the recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College. A leading expert in aquatic invertebrates, Bass teaches courses ranging from beginning biology and ecology to invertebrate zoology and aquatic entomology. He also coaches UCO’s competitive sailing team.
“Even though Bass has been a professor at UCO for 35 years, he still works as if her were a green Ph.D. starting his first semester of teaching,” said Dr. Wei Chen, dean of the UCO College of Mathematics and Science. “He treats each class as a new adventure, constantly revising lecture notes, adding new contents and experimenting with new delivery approaches.”
Bass’s courses combine lectures with lab work. He utilizes different learning styles, including discussion, data analysis, writing, drawing, field work and problem-solving.
“As I prepare for class, I imagine myself as a student in the course to better understand their situation,” Bass said. “I focus on the most important concepts and how they apply to the real world or use examples to which students relate.”
Bass mentors and encourages students to become involved in research and curation activities. At least 15 of his publications are co-authored by students.
Dr. Edralin Lucas, the Jim and Lynne Williams Endowed Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Oklahoma State University, is the recipient of the Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Research University.
Lucas’s research focuses on the role of nutrition in promoting cardiovascular health and preventing chronic disease.
Regarding Dr. Lucas, colleague Brenda Smith stated, “She is understanding, yet holds students accountable. She communicates the importance of values, including hard work, striving for excellence, compassion as well as personal and professional integrity.”
A 30-year teaching veteran, Lucas’ courses range from introductory Principles of Human Nutrition to graduate courses in Macronutrients and Nutrition and Evidence-Based Practice. Her classes incorporate student-led discussion, in-class group assignments, hands-on activities and case studies.
“I am convinced that true learning is not simply a matter of memorizing facts, but understanding fundamental principles and being able to use these principles in everyday situations,” Lucas said.
Department Director Stephen Clarke said, “Dr. Lucas played a critical role in reorganization of the department’s capstone nutrition course, which has dramatically improved student’s capacity to read and critically evaluate nutrition-related research.”
Lucas has been honored six times as her college’s outstanding graduate faculty mentor and has twice been honored with an OSU Regents Distinguished Teaching Award.
The Oklahoma Medal for Excellence awards ceremony is scheduled to take place at the 34th annual Academic Awards Banquet on Saturday, May 16 at the Embassy Suites Conference Center in Norman.
That evening, the foundation will honor 100 of Oklahoma’s top public high school seniors as Academic All-Staters. Tickets are $50. For more information, visit ofe.org.