Reason #3 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Vendetta against Jenks
Timing is everything. Yesterday, as I was poised to post the #4 reason in my countdown, I ran across the information about Janet Barresi’s campaign owing the candidate herself nearly $2 million. Apparently, that nugget of information is something my readers find interesting. In fact, twice in the last week or so, I’ve broken from the countdown to discuss something topical that was too new to make the list. The other time was when I posted the letter that the REAC3H coaches received from Barresi via their boss Teri Brecheen. In my mind, the common thread connecting the campaign contributions and the dismissal of the coaches is that both show how disconnected Barresi (and many of her top staff at the SDE) are from everyday people – even those who work for them.
Today, I have the good fortune of adding a late-breaking news nugget to the post that I had originally scheduled to run today. Here is what posted to the NewsOK website this afternoon
The campaign manager for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi alleged Wednesday that rival Joy Hofmeister broke the law by sending campaign-related emails to school district administrators on their work accounts.
Hofmeister, of Tulsa, and Brian Kelly of Edmond are opposing Barresi in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Hofmeister said the allegations are “desperate attempts” by Barresi to “smear my reputation to distract voters from her failures.”
“I was a private citizen, during the time period of these conversations, responding to emails like most average citizens do,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “Janet Barresi is fast and loose with her accusations hoping to bully me with her personal fortune because I have decided to stand against her and fight for the school children of Oklahoma.”
This seems like a desperate leap to me. I hope it was worth the $1,500 her campaign spent to dig through the emails.
Here’s a recap of the Top Five (so far):
#3 – Vendetta against Jenks
The real story is the ongoing feud Barresi and the SDE have been waging against Jenks Public Schools. I started paying attention to it in May 2013.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education is investigating Jenks Public Schools apparently to see if its parent-led movement to opt students out of “field tests” was instigated or encouraged by district employees, the Tulsa World has learned.
“There is an investigation, but at this time, we don’t really want to discuss it so that it won’t be compromised,” said department spokeswoman Sherry Fair.
The state enforces strict security protocols to ensure the reliability of testing results. Officials declined to provide more specific information about what rules they think Jenks administrators might have violated.
Although state education officials declined to release specifics, it appears the investigation targets an opt-out movement among parents of Jenks Middle School students during last month’s testing period.
The school received a flurry of opt-out forms from parents in April asking that their children not be subjected to field tests, which are used by testing companies to evaluate questions for future use. They do not count in either a student’s grade or in a school’s state grade.
“Our kids are being used as unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill (a testing vendor) without our consent or permission,” PTA President Deedra Barnes told the Tulsa World last month.
In response to a Tulsa World inquiry, Jenks district officials confirmed they had received an Open Records Act request from the department April 24 asking for a number of records related to testing.
Jenks spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said the district is complying with the state’s request in accordance with state law.
“This was a parent-initiated movement and the district followed all state laws and regulations in administering state-mandated tests,” she said.
Rogers said she preferred not to comment further because of the ongoing investigation, except to say the district was surprised by the number of parents who opted their child out of the tests. About half the students did not take the field tests, she said.
Barresi, as Rob Miller (the Jenks Middle School principal), pointed out on his blog just last night, campaigned in 2010 telling us that she valued what parents think. Her actions ever since being elected show otherwise. Parents may matter, but not as much as testing. Although I suppose if you could test parents, you’d really have something that she values.
The investigation yielded nothing. The Tulsa World looked into how this started and found a very skeptical state superintendent pulling the strings.
Documents show Barresi requested in a telephone conversation April 5 that Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman initiate an internal investigation into the opt-out movement.
In an email to Barresi later that day, Lehman reiterated that Jenks would comply with all the state’s requests. He also wrote that after speaking with Barnes and Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, “it is clear to me that Ms. Barnes and other parents made the determination to pen the letter and take the action which resulted in Wednesday’s ‘opting out’ activity on the part of many Jenks parents and students.”
That evening, Barresi wrote an email to Chief of Staff Joel Robison, Assistant State Superintendent Maridyth McBee and the department’s general counsel, Kim Richey, about Lehman’s email.
“I am not buying the explanation that seems to insulate Miller and others. There had to be a great deal of conversation between Rob and the parents. Clearly this was orchestrated,” Barresi wrote.
By October, the SDE had quietly closed the investigation. Maybe they felt it was best not to keep this fire burning. After the World reported on the lack of findings, Rob Miller responded.
Did you notice something obvious that is missing from this SDE report? How about actual interviews with me, Deedra Barnes (our PTA mom who led the opt-out campaign), or any other parents, teachers, or staff members? They spoke to no one. Thus, the SDE erroneously concludes that I initiated the parent opt-out based on a loose interpretation of hundreds of emails. Of course, they omitted emails which did not serve their purpose of painting me as a “rogue” administrator trying to circumvent state law. If anyone at the SDE had taken the time to speak with a real person, they would have found out otherwise.
Here are the facts and they are irrefutable:
1. Every student at Jenks Middle School was properly scheduled for a test session for every assessment required by state law. Students with parents who chose to opt their child out of the field test(s) were given multiple opportunities to take these tests.
2. Only students with a signed letter from a parent were permitted to opt-out of a field test. No students were excused from participation in any operational test.
3. The school worked with the parents to create an opt-out letter using a template from a national opt-out organization. This was done to ensure that we had a consistent communication for documentation purposes.
4. No staff member asked or encouraged any student to opt-out. On the contrary, we repeatedly encouraged students to participate in all state mandated tests.
5. I did not coerce or encourage Ms. Barnes or any other parent to initiate an opt-out campaign. Ms. Barnes brought the topic up to me after getting increasing frustrated at the amount of unnecessary testing to which her child was subjected. Our parents sent information to other parents using a private email account. The school did not distribute the opt-out letters or information about the initiative with parents; rather these parents were directed to contact Ms. Barnes.
6. No one provided any information about the field tests that wasn’t available on the SDE’s own webpage. The Geography and US History tests were known to be field tests in early October. Teachers and students knew they would not receive a score from these tests and that the results would not affect the school’s accountability measures. Likewise, teachers and students were told that one of the two Writing tests would be a field test. How did they figure out which one was the field test? It wasn’t difficult. The directions in the test administrators’ booklet for the Writing field test clearly stated to students, “You are about to take the FIELD TEST for writing.” Duh!
The bottom line is that no laws associated with the Oklahoma State Testing Program were violated by anyone at Jenks Middle School. We simply have a high number of engaged parents who were fed up and wanted to send a message.
Regrettably, the SDE wants to make this a story about a principal (me) who in less than four days was allegedly able to convince over half the school’s parents to opt their child out of field testing. The story they want to ignore is the one about a large group of highly educated and passionate parents taking a stand over an out-of-control, high-stakes testing machine that negatively impacts their child’s education. These parents are not going away. In fact their numbers are growing every day.
The numbers have grown so much, in fact, that a Jenks Public Schools parent is just six days away from possibly knocking Barresi out of her re-election campaign in the primary. Diane Ravitch took Rob’s story national.
In the spring, the SDE added to this story when they selected school districts for field testing and somehow missed a couple. To no one’s surprise, Jenks was one of them. (Owasso was the other.) Here was Rob’s reaction.
Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious. As you may have heard, some parents and educators in Owasso made some waves recently because of their vocal opposition to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in their district. Therefore, this news was way too coincidental for random chance.
You could say that since Barresi took office, she has received a lot of grief from northeast Oklahoma. At one point, her Chief of Staff even called administrators from Jenks and Union dirtbags. She has ignored questions from Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall. She even accidentally sent him the wrong email once, showing that she blamed the districts for the problems they were having with the ACE graduation law.
Her thirst for revenge is evident in all of these actions – and completely unacceptable for somebody who claims to be doing what she does to help children.