Home > Uncategorized > Reason #10 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Leadership Experience

Reason #10 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Leadership Experience

August 2, 2022

As I wrote Sunday, I’ve been toying around with a #TopTen list for a couple of weeks. I have even bounced ideas off of a few friends. At one point, the list grew to almost 20 reasons not to promote Ryan Walters from his car office to the post of State Superintendent. Some of them were gloriously hilarious, yet sadly unusable. 

We have three weeks until the runoff. Absentee ballots are already out. Many people have already voted. I’m concerned.

I did some research on voter turnout in previous Republican runoff elections. Here’s what I found:

  • In 2010, voter turnout between the primary and runoff dropped by 48%. Then again, the only statewide race was for Insurance Commissioner. Local races drove most of the turnout.
  • In 2014, there were no statewide runoff elections for Republicans. It should be noted, however, that the governor was an incumbent, and the incumbent state superintendent came in third in her primary election. I don’t know if that’s relevant or not, but I like mentioning that any time I have a chance.
  • During the 2018 primary, medical marijuana was also on the ballot. Voter turnout was higher [pun intended] than usual. Over 429,000 Republicans voted in the primary, up from 262,000 in 2014. During the runoff election in August, the number of voters dropped off by 31%. Still, we had the Governor and State Superintendent races on the ballot. Turnout in the runoff was about as heavy as turnout in the primary in 2014 or 2018.
  • In 2022, there were about 360,000 ballots cast in the Republican primary. This year, we aren’t voting for a governor or weed in the runoff. We do have some juicy down ballot races, though. Labor Commissioner has become a heated contest between incumbent Leslie Osburn and a challenger I won’t even dignify by naming. Osburn has been a long-time supporter of #oklaed. As for her challenger, well, you can look it up. We also have statewide runoffs for Jim Inhofe’s soon-to-be vacant US Senate seat, Treasurer, and Corporation Commissioner. The Second Congressional District also has a runoff. I expect turnout to be fairly high – especially on the east side of the state.

Clearly, the race that interests me the most is for State Superintendent. I want to take a quick moment to acknowledge the people who keep reminding me that there are actually three candidates for the position. Yes, Jena Nelson is on the ballot as the Democratic nominee. That’s November’s problem. It’s August. I’m focused on this race. Jena is a former state teacher of the year, and once the runoff is complete, I’ll be even more interested in hearing about her platform. I’ve never met Ms. Nelson, but we’ve interacted on social media. I know she’s not hostile to the profession. That’s enough to make me want to hear more.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Reason #10: Leadership Experience. Put simply, Dr. Grace has quite a bit. Ryan Walters has virtually none. He was a history teacher in McAlester before being named Executive Director Every Kid Counts Oklahoma (EKCO), a nonprofit startup that began operating in 2020. What do they stand for? This seemingly innocuous screen grab from their website lays it out.

The fact that EKCO co-offices with the Oklahoma Public Schools Resource Center (funded by the Walton Family Foundation) is a story for another post later in the countdown. I want to focus for a minute on the first and last of their core values.

Students Not Systems sounds harmless, right? The money should follow the kid? Well it already does. The state has a funding formula, with all kinds of accountability measures in place. Since the vast majority (about 700,000) of those students attend our public schools, those funds flow through the public school system. Walters’s position with EKCO gives him the air of legitimacy while he plays politics from his car all day. 

Similarly, Win Together should be a rallying cry for all of us, right? It’s one thing to say, education is not a partisan issue out of one side of your mouth and then turn on your smart phone and blast the liberal woke mob out of the other side. With Walters and the people who prop him up, it’s not enough to be a Republican and agree with them most of the time. You must also vote their way on all issues – especially vouchers – or they will bring in all kinds of dark money to fund campaigns against you. 

The six-figure salary Walters receives for performing his official “duties” with EKCO allows him to live comfortably while also collecting about what a legislator makes and serving as Governor Stitt’s Secretary of Education. In that role, he still has very little authority. That’s why his complete failure in the Class Wallet scandal is so bewildering. Between his two “jobs,” he really shouldn’t even have had to multitask. 

Leaders do the hard day-to-day work of improving systems and building people up. Leaders stand in front during a crisis. Unlike her opponent, Dr. Grace has done this. She has been a teacher, coach, and principal. She led the Human Resources department of one of the largest districts in the state for a decade. She is entering her seventh year as a school superintendent. She has been the president of the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators (OASA), and she was named Oklahoma Superintendent of the Year in 2021. 

For more than three decades, April has shown up and focused on making people’s lives better. That’s what real educators do. She has earned the respect of her peer leaders. She teaches courses for Southern Nazarene University’s graduate education programs. I’ve even served on a dissertation committee with her and seen the thoughtfulness she puts into leading that process. 

Just last week, principals in my district were scheduled to re-train on the Marzano evaluation system, as they are required to do every few years. There was a mixup at registration, not just with Mid-Del leaders, but with principals from a few other schools as well. April took them off into another room and led their session with no hesitation. I received several messages from my principals saying how impressed they were with her.

Show up. Stand in front and do the job, even when you weren’t expecting to have to do it. That’s what leadership looks like.

To paraphrase one of my principals, Dr. April Grace is the real deal.

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