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Four reasons to give Joy four more years

August 26, 2018 Comments off

I ran into our state superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, yesterday morning at the Oklahoma State School Boards Association conference. She was on her way into the exhibit hall, talking to people she recognizes, being approached by people she doesn’t. She graciously talked to everyone who would stop, including me. We talked about the upcoming election, a few policy points, and where to find the coffee. I asked my friend Kenny Ward to take this picture so I could share it on Twitter and remind people to vote.IMG_4652

When Superintendent Hofmeister goes to a meeting or walks around a conference, she doesn’t keep an entourage with her. She was just walking solo through the conference space. You won’t find too many statewide elected officials who can say that. At more times than I can count during the last four years, I’ve been able to just approach her and start a conversation about whatever the policy topic du jour happens to be.

She’s been this way since she began her campaign four years ago. Now that I think about it, she’s been this way since Governor Fallin appointed her to the State Board of Education in 2012. From her first board meeting, Joy began asking questions. Quickly it was obvious that she wasn’t a good fit for the education policies of either Fallin, or Janet Barresi, who was then state superintendent.

In case you’ve forgotten, 2011 through 2015 were dark years for public schools in Oklahoma. I don’t want to get into a greatest hits flashback from former legislators, or the governor or Joy’s predecessor, so I won’t. I will say, though, that in my 26 years as a public educator, I have never heard such insulting discourse towards our profession and the people in it as I did during that time.

Joy, the candidate, was this real person who would sit down on the ground at schools and talk with elementary school students. Joy, the state superintendent, is the same real person. I’ve seen it in my own schools. Even when there’s an event with a decent amount of staging, she still stops and talks to students. She talks to them, from age four to 18, like they’re people.

She slew the beast four years ago, and she’s great with kids. Those reasons alone aren’t enough to give her four more years, though. Since taking that picture yesterday, I’ve been thinking of ways to articulate a few of the reasons I want to see the momentum continue. Here are four:

She listens to actual students and educators.

Under Superintendent Hofmeister, the SDE has utilized several constituency groups as sounding boards. Among these are teacher and student groups. Two of the last three years, I’ve had students from my own Superintendent’s Advisory Board also serve on hers. They tell me that she genuinely engages with them. Our teachers say the same thing.

She also meets monthly with a group of superintendents. Since this is the one I attend, I’ll try to characterize how those meetings typically go.

Usually, about 30-40 of us are able to make it to the meetings. If you can’t be there, you have the option to call in (and from experience, I can say you should probably mute your phone). The group represents all corners of the state, and it includes a representative sample of urban, suburban, and rural districts. We cover major initiatives, legislative updates, federal policy, funding issues, and a range of other topics.

During these meetings, Joy will tell us what she thinks and ask us what we think. If we’re not in alignment, she considers our reasons. I’ve seen her change her mind. I’ve seen her hold to an unpopular opinion that turned out to be wise. Most importantly, I’ve seen her welcome back each month the people who disagree with her. I’ve even been that superintendent a few times.

I’m not asking for any elected official to agree with me all the time. I just appreciate the ones who consider a wide range of opinions. She passes this test.

She successfully navigated the process to replace Common Core.

Just before the primary election four years ago, the Legislature tossed out the Common Core State Standards. Predictably, Joy’s predecessor handled the news poorly. What that meant for Joy, upon taking office, was shepherding a new process for developing math and reading standards. She had to do this under intense scrutiny and what essentially amounted to a campaign of state legislators.

Oklahoma educators wrote the new math and reading standards. My colleagues from Moore, where I previously worked, and Mid-Del, where I work now, were among them. Those individuals, along with the curriculum specialists at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), had to fight fringe groups who really want nothing more than to end public education.

Again, this was a contrast to the previous administration, in which I was asked to serve on a number of working groups in which my opinions were never considered. Joy’s team not only let the educators they recruited write the standards; they fought to ensure that this work meant something.

She fought to eliminate End-of-Instruction tests and Value Added Measurement.

One of the biggest changes in the last few years is that the state eliminated End of Instruction tests for high school students. Instead of students with IEPs having to beg to graduate before the State Board, we’re back to trusting each public high school to decide who graduates.

People never cared about these tests, except for the fear that came along with them. High school students care about the high-stakes tests they self-select to take: ACT, SAT, and AP. We’re back to focusing on those, which is good for kids.

Another failure of the onslaught of education reforms of 2011 was the idea that you can (a) measure teacher effectiveness with test scores, and (b) construct other objective measures for teachers not in tested grades or subjects. Look, if you really could, I’d be all for it. I’m a father of three, and I always wanted more than word of mouth to tell me who the best teachers were. Unfortunately, that’s as likely as having a pet unicorn.

At about the same time as the Legislature was formally adopting new reading and math standards, it was eliminating the mandate for Value Added Measurements. No teacher ever had to have VAM added to his/her evaluation. We can thank Joy, along with key legislators, for that.

She stands with us.

Whether it’s our ongoing battle for reforms to the Reading Sufficiency Act or continuously raising awareness about the teacher shortage, Joy has our backs. She relentlessly communicates our needs. She has the ear of legislators, and she works well with members of both parties.

During the teacher walkout, she marched with teachers. She has the same mindset I do: kids first, teachers next, and everybody else after that. We all play critical parts in educating kids, but we have to understand that teachers are the rock stars, and that the rest of us are just roadies for the band.

Joy gets that.

She fights for funding. She fights for respect for our profession. I sincerely hope she gets four more years to do this.

Vote Tuesday.

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