Posts Tagged ‘#oklaed’

Reason #1 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: The future we’ve already seen

August 21, 2022 1 comment

When Election Night is over and we wake up Wednesday morning, we are going to hear countless hot takes on what happened, what could have been done differently, and what it all means. This will be true no matter who wins the Republican run-off for State Superintendent. Here’s my takeaway, three days early:

The results of this election will tell us how good our long-term memory is.

No matter who tells us otherwise, Tuesday’s results will not be a mandate for or against vouchers. They won’t tell us how important the governor’s support is or isn’t. They won’t even tell us whether certain high-profile endorsements (or in some cases, a lack thereof), were significant.

Oklahoma run-off elections are quirky. They come down to voter turnout and momentum. If you don’t believe me, ask Vince Orza.

In 2002, Orza outgained Brad Henry in the Democratic primary 44% to 29%. In the run-off, however, with 92,000 fewer people voting, Henry came back and won the nomination, 52% to 48%. For Orza, it was déjà vu

Orza had run for governor before, in 1990, as a Republican. He was a well-known restaurateur, with Garfield’s franchises in operation throughout the state. He was a former news anchor and economics professor. In the primary, he beat Bill Price 40% to 27%. Then in the runoff, with only 3,000 fewer people voting (and heavy influence from the Oklahoman), Price overtook Orza, winning by 0.4%. 

Am I a bigger nerd for remembering all of this or for looking it up to make sure the numbers were accurate? Doesn’t matter.

The point is that this race is completely up for grabs. In this election, in 2022, the primary winner may or may not win the runoff. Nothing is guaranteed.  

More importantly, though, I wonder how vividly Oklahomans remember the 2010 State Superintendent election, and how terrible the next four years were for our schools. Nothing we’re hearing from the Stitt/Walters crowd now is new. It’s déjà vu all over again.

Below are five quotes, either from the Janet Barresi era (2010-2014) or Ryan Walters now. See if you can tell which are from then, and which are current.


  1. “Who can we trust to defend our values?”
  2. “Today’s action is a pathetic and outrageous step back and returns us to a failed system”
  3. “OSDE routinely receives a number of allegations and complaints involving schools around the state, accusations that run the gamut from mismanagement to privacy violations to potentially criminal matters….One need look no further than newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts to see the spectrum of situations that warrant professional, precise and effective investigation.”
  4. “The liberal education establishment has fought me the whole way. And they’re not about to let reality get in the way of their agenda.”
  5. “Funding for education in this country has doubled over the last 10 years with flatline results. Do we just throw a lot more money at it? Respectfully, school choice is a right in this state. It is not a luxury. It’s an important part of the mix in education.”
This screenshot is just to remind you that anti-teacher rhetoric isn’t the only reason to vote for Dr. April Grace and against Ryan Walters for State Superintendent. Also, I wanted to keep you from peeking at the answers for a few seconds.


  1. Then: Voiceover from a Janet Barresi ad (2014)
  2. Then: Barresi’s reaction to veto override of HB 2625 (2014) – more on this below
  3. Then: Barresi quote on essentially hiring an in-house PI after already losing her primary (2014)
  4. Then: Barresi on how education organizations had questioned her faulty math on a pay raise scheme that wouldn’t have worked (2013)
  5. Then: Barresi advocating for school vouchers (2012)

Yes. They were all old quotes. That’s the point. I’ve kept receipts from that era for a reason.

Also, you probably figured out they weren’t Walters quotes, since she never says woke.

Ryan Walters is nothing more than a cheap cover band for the same attacks that drove us to the polls in droves in 2014. Claiming to be the arbiter of our state’s values? Check. Attacks on educators? Check. Stomping around and acting like a victim? Yeah, that too.

Take Friday, for example, when Governor Stitt issued one of the most head-scratchingly useless Executive Orders we’ve ever seen. In short, he declared that teachers not only don’t have to join their unions (already true), but they also have to be told that they don’t have to join their union (also already true). Membership is opt-in, not opt-out. Anyone who tells you differently – including our governor – is misinformed or lying. 

How many geniuses collaborated on this piece of work?

This right wasn’t codified in the Janus Supreme Court decision, or when Oklahoma became a Right-to-Work state in 2001. This is my 30th year working in public education. I have been employed by six different school districts. In none of them were teachers required to join their unions. In none of them was the right to choose unclear.

Stitt basically said that teachers have the right to breathe air and drink water. His preferred candidate for State Superintendent couldn’t keep from parrotting:

Interestingly, the EO didn’t mention the word liberal, though that seems to be the cherry on top for both Stitt and Walters. When I first saw this, I thought the use of the word chains was doing a lot of work. Then I saw his next tweet:

Yes, the guy with the dead inside eyes just compared mandatory union membership (still not a thing) to slavery. In response, Twitter was thorough, but it was not kind.

Ok, one of those was mine, but I wasn’t the only person who was outraged. Comparing anything to slavery – especially for an allegedly good history teacher – is always a bad idea. It reminds me of a particular time when Janet Barresi – who loves Ryan Walters and absolutely loved Common Core – also used a particularly offensive analogy. 

In 2014, after the Oklahoma Legislature ended implementation of the Common Core State Standards here, Janet Barresi met with a group of educators and compared that action to the 2013 Moore tornado. It was such a personal trigger for me, that when another blogger told me about it, I said he should write about it. I just couldn’t. I went through the Moore tornado and its aftermath. I already despised Barresi for her incessant attacks on the profession I love. This took me to a new level of resentment I had never felt before.

To be clear, we can’t compare any of the following things to each other: slavery, tornadoes, legislative decisions, or voluntary union membership. They’re all vastly different. 

Comparing Barresi to Walters is fair though. We’ve heard his rhetoric already. She was arguably more versed in policy, but her tenor was the same. Defund schools. Make them look bad. Blame teachers while pretending you’re on their side. Attack administrators. When cornered, throw in a culture war. Act like a victim whenever possible. Oh, and blame unions, as she did in this classic moment:

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the unions or anyone else in the education establishment lose another generation of Oklahoma’s children.” – Janet Barresi (2013)

This week, Walters dug deep into the Barresi playbook and said that if he wins, Oklahoma will retain more third-graders than ever. That second Barresi quote in the quiz above was from when the Legislature overrode Governor Fallin’s veto and allowed parents to have a voice in determining whether third-grade students should be retained. Walters is saying he’d take that right away from parents.

In 2014, Oklahoma was poised to hold back about 4,000 third grade students. Students were getting sick prior to testing, or during testing. Parents and teachers lobbied en masse to change the law and allow a parent to sit in on the retention/promotion committee. The change passed the House and Senate easily, with a combined vote of 132-7. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill. The vote to override was nearly as lopsided, 124-19. That’s what Barresi was calling pathetic in the quote.

In 2014, Oklahoma voters corrected the mistake we made in 2010. In 2022, let’s not make the mistake in the first place. Elect Dr. April Grace instead. She believes in teachers. She’s spent 30+ years as a teacher and leader in our schools. She works with parents and understands students. Let’s get this right. Vote like our public schools and the students they serve depend on it. 

Reason #2 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: The why and the how

August 19, 2022 Comments off

Why are you interested in this position?

That is a question I have asked dozens of times during job interviews. Keep in mind that when I’m asking, it’s almost always for a leadership role – principal, director, assistant superintendent, etc. Sometimes, I get a well-conceived answer, something that tells me why they are the right person for this role and this district right now. Sometimes, I hear a rambling response that tells me the applicant is really looking for career advancement (which is fine, but not inspiring). On other occasions, all I get is an answer you could Google.

Before we get to Tuesday’s runoff for State Superintendent, let’s look at everything we know about the candidates and ask ourselves why each candidate wants the job? They know it’s not a cushy gig where you just put your feet up on a desk and bark buzzwords at people, right? The State Department of Education manages billions of dollars. They are responsible for ensuring compliance with untold state and federal regulations for those dollars. They oversee instruction and operations in 500+ school districts.

So what can we learn about their reason why from their campaigns? In previous posts, I’ve shared a couple of the responses that Dr. April Grace gave to OK-PLAC on their questionnaire. In this one, they specifically ask that question.

Dr. Grace talks about her granddaughter being one of the 700,000 public school children who need a great education in our state. She mentions her ability to collaborate with people from different groups and perspectives. As she has traveled around the state, putting over 1,000 miles a week on the road to meet with groups big and small, she has proven this.

Walters, as you can see, did not respond to their questionnaire. In his mind, though, he’s been running a positive campaign focused on serious issues.

Which part has been positive? The umpteen times he has said woke, indoctrination, and leftist? When his allies disgustingly refer to teachers as groomers, where is he defending the profession he claims to love? His entire campaign has lacked substance and support for the thousands of dedicated educators in our state. 

I don’t doubt that Walters – as any parent would – spends every day thinking about how he could make the world a better place for his own children. As I said in my previous post, I also don’t doubt that he was a good classroom teacher. I just don’t think he’s articulated a reason why he wants the job. 

Nor has he shown that he understands what the job entails, or how he’s going to manage all of the tasks that go along with leading a large state agency. The following screenshots show the tabs I see when I login to the Single Sign On system as a superintendent.

Even though I have administrators and support professionals to help manage many of these tasks, each one still requires a modicum of understanding and involvement on my part. Many require more frequent interaction. 

Also, please point to the tab where all the wokeness happens?

When I have a question, I can ask my Regional Accreditation Officer for assistance or another leader within the SDE. Many of them are former administrators. I’ll say it again. Experience matters. If you want to lead the state system of public schools, it would help if you know what the people leading the districts are doing. 

How will you approach these tasks on day one? Who will staff critical leadership positions within the SDE if you get the job? Will it be seasoned professionals who understand the nuance of laws and regulations? Or will it be political appointments who have never heard of Title I, IDEA, or the state funding formula?

The State Superintendent is also the Chair of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. He or she is also are on other boards and commissions, such as the Commissioners of the Land Office (which is under criminal investigation, thanks to another appointee of Gov. Stitt, Elliott Chambers.) We’ve seen that Walters can’t even handle one state contract without the feds clawing back hundreds of thousands of dollars. How is he going to handle even greater responsibility?

One candidate in Tuesday’s runoff has thought about day one…and two…and so on. That person is Dr. April Grace.

Reason #3 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Bibliophilia

August 17, 2022 Comments off

Ok, this one is going to be a little esoteric, so bear with me. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love books. One thing I like telling our staff as they’re going home for the summer is, “read a book with no socially-redeeming value.” That doesn’t mean I don’t want people reading great literature or professionally-relevant books. It’s called balance. I may have a fridge full of fresh produce, but my pantry still has the Little Debbie snacks.

Technically, they’re sandwiches. It says so right on the box. But I digress.

Make no mistake: reading is under attack. Just this week, I’ve read about a Texas school district that removed 41 book titles, including the Bible and the Diary of Anne Frank from its shelves. To be fair, the district is following its review policy for titles that have been challenged, but can we just agree that this is beyond ridiculous?

Also within the last week, I saw a story about a teacher in Oklahoma who chose not to have kids read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann. I read the book on vacation last year and then loaned it out to one of my children. This well-researched piece of writing made me want to learn more about our state’s history – not the stuff we glossed over in school back in the 80s. Good literature makes you crave more.

Apparently, the Oklahoma teacher is afraid of losing her certification:

While the district has not officially banned the book, the school’s superintendent, Vince Vincent, believes the teacher, like many others, is worried of violating HB 1775.

“It probably sheds light a little bit on the concerns that individual teachers have in regards to House Bill 1775, and what may or may not create a situation where either the school receives negative attention and gets some sort of accreditation deficiency, or whether the teachers themselves suffer consequences in terms of teacher certification,” said Superintendent Vincent.

However, former Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray said there’s no way for people to appreciate how far the tribe has come without learning about their dark past.

“We don’t study history to feel good about it,” Gray said. “History is there for us to understand the mistakes of the past so we cannot repeat them.”

I don’t see how having students read this book would violate the law. Then again, anyone who fears the State Board of Education going rogue and following neither the law nor their own policies has good reason to feel that way. When they want to grandstand and make a point – as they did recently with Tulsa and Mustang – they’ll just wing it. Don’t believe me? Just read Mustang’s letter of appeal. They make some really good points.

In the race for State Superintendent, we can choose a candidate who not only supports libraries and librarians, Dr. April Grace; or we can pick the current darling of the book banning crowd, Ryan Walters.

In 2021, Dr. Grace was honored by the American Association of School Librarians as the recipient of their Distinguished School Administrator Award. As she wrote in an article for their journal:

To me, the library is the heartbeat and central hub of the school. It is a place for the entire school to gather and collaborate, a place where learning is enhanced and the classroom extended. It is a place where learning can come alive and help each student make real-world connections. It is a place where all learners can dream, create, grow, and connect. It is an inclusive place where every child can feel safe and seen and valued. Robust school libraries are a catalyst for creating inclusive learning environments, and every learner deserves access to a quality library. When I became superintendent of my own school district, I knew investing in school libraries was nonnegotiable.

When you see children reading, you see children learning. When you see schools that value libraries, you see adults who care what students learn. 

Most people who have ever worked in a public school have known students who think of the library as their safe place. When books are under attack, when the professionals who foster the love of reading are under attack, so is that safe place.

Walters and his crowd can keep filming their car videos and screaming invectives from their keyboards for now. If he wins this election, however, expect those attacks to intensify.

As far as I’m concerned, books like Killers of the Flower Moon are important. As a life-long Oklahoman who wants to understand the history of our state, I loved the book and can’t wait for the movie to come out. Hopefully our students won’t have to wait either.

Reason #4 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Respect for the profession

August 15, 2022 Comments off

I don’t write about education policy because I love politics. I write because I believe that public schools are critical to giving all students the opportunity to realize their full potential and contribute to our society.

The platitudes repeated by groups that favor public schools lose their impact over time, but they have truth behind them. Public schools are available to all children. Public schools reflect the diversity of our communities  – in every imaginable way. Public schools prepare people for responsible citizenship in a democratic society. 

This is why I value great teachers. We can all remember at least one of them who made a difference in our lives. And nothing beats that feeling we get as teachers when our former students come back to tell us about that impact.

If you are a candidate for office, and the job you’re seeing has anything to do with public schools, before I’ll support you, you have to show me that you respect teachers and value public schools. That’s what’s so perplexing about the Ryan Walters candidacy. People I trust tell me he was a good classroom teacher. That makes sense. He was a finalist for state teacher of the year. Then again, I have one of those down the hall from me and two more teaching in my district. 

Learning is hard. Therefore, we know that good teachers have some combination of skill and empathy. If they didn’t, they’d just be rattling off information and accepting that some students learn and some don’t. If Walters was a good teacher, those qualities would be evident, right?

Last week, I ran across a tweet showing a short clip of Walters teaching about the path from Plessy v. Ferguson to the landmark Brown v. Board decision of 1954. It’s embedded below:

In case you can’t watch the video for some reason, I’ll describe it. Over one minute and 16 seconds, Walters mentions the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) case that established the separate but equal doctrine. He then notes Brown v. Board of Education (1954) which bans segregation in schools. Then he adds that according to psychologists, “when you’re five or six years old, you like dolls that look like you, that’s just part of social development. They brought in some studies that showed that even young black kids in segregated schools wanted the white dolls…”

The account that posted the video added, “Pretty sure some people would consider this to be CRT.” In the comments, he then posted, “That’s the thing about 1775.. it’s open to interpretation. Did this have the capacity of making students feel shame? Absolutely. It’s a purposefully vague law to selectively target school districts.”

From what I can see, there would be no violation of HB 1775 here. Then again, from what I can see, Tulsa and Mustang didn’t violate the law either before the State Board of Education sanctioned them.

Yet Walters ranted and raved. He called for Tulsa’s accreditation to be dinged and the superintendent’s certificate to be revoked. The lesson Walters himself taught to his students describes implicit bias – even if he doesn’t use that phrase. Just because a presenter in Tulsa did say the words shouldn’t automatically move them two notches closer to the precipice of losing their accreditation. 

(BTW: I’m still completely perplexed by what happened to Mustang, and I really just don’t want to get into it here.)

If Walters ever truly had the necessary empathy to be a great teacher, I don’t see it now – not during this campaign. Maybe the guy from the classroom was a character he was playing. Or perhaps this candidate version of him is just an act. Either way, he’s sold out to the highest bidder to call out educators as boogeymen in his false narrative.

Going back to the debate between Walters and Dr. April Grace last week, we heard nothing from him of the great things teachers do every day. That doesn’t fit into the word salad he prefers to spew.

Meanwhile, Dr. Grace continues to talk to parents, educators, and community members about her plans for improving public schools. She’s been a superintendent for six years, and as with any of us, she doesn’t get everyone’s support. Just the same, she’s committed over 30 years to educating children. Unlike her opponent, I’ve never known her to degenerate the work of teachers or the concerns of parents. 

Dr. Grace is wired for servant leadership. Everything about her says, this is an educator. He can just roll along with his vitriol, car videos, and appearances on cable news. Meanwhile, April is going to keep going to the people, listening to their concerns, and letting them see who she is.

Reason #5 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Fiscal management

August 14, 2022 Comments off

School superintendents – no matter what size of district – wear many hats. They make countless decisions every year. Every one of those decisions can impact the district’s bottom line.

In a good year, a district will have revenue and expenditures that are pretty closely matched and maintain a healthy fund balance. Superintendents have to ascertain from available information if local and state aid will rise or fall and balance that against enrollment projections.

While the state’s education formula does a fairly good job of equalizing per pupil funding among districts’ general funds, there is no such balance among their general funds and bonding capacity. Additionally, federal funds dispersed under a formula (such as Title I, Title II, IDEA, and Title VI), have highly specific regulations for school district use.

I could have written those paragraphs at any other point in the last 30 years, and they would have summarized the fiscal responsibility of a school superintendent. Most people don’t find it thrilling to discuss, but they would have thoughts if any funds were mismanaged. With all the different Covid relief funds school districts have received, it has never been more important to have systems in place for internal controls. Every penny spent has paper trails. We have to follow rules for bids.

If you want to look at recent audits for Shawnee Public Schools, which has been led by Dr. April Grace since 2016, you will see that those internal controls are in place. If you look at Oklahoma Cost Accounting System (OCAS) reports for recent years, you will also see that Shawnee has maintained a healthy – but not ridiculously high – fund balance. 

When I say that experience matters, this is a big part of it. Managing finances for one school district is a big task. Overseeing that effort statewide is huge. Ryan Walters, has proven it’s out of his reach.

As Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier reported back in May:

U.S. Department of Education auditors recommended clawing back more than $650,000 in misspent federal coronavirus relief funds from Gov. Kevin Stitt and reviewing an additional $5.5 million in purchases, according to a federal audit released Tuesday.

The questioned spending came from Stitt’s Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program, which gave $1,500 grants to low-income families for educational purchases like computers and school supplies during the pandemic. 

Auditors pinpointed questionable expenditures like arcade games, Christmas trees, smart watches, sofas, televisions and refrigerators totaling $652,720. The extraneous items made up more than 10% of all purchases. The $5.5 million is the total of purchases the auditors did not analyze and could contain unauthorized items.

Long story short: The Stitt administration allowed misspending of federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Funds. First, he allowed Ryan Walters – even before he was named Secretary of Education – to arrange a no-bid contract with Florida-based Class Wallet. Walters then proceeded to give blanket approval of all purchases. Basically, rather than placing any kind of internal controls over how the GEER Funds were spent, Stitt, Walters, and Class Wallet took the Outback Steakhouse approach – No Rules, Just Right!

Quoting from a separate Oklahoma Watch/Frontier story:

Other states used federal money to train new teachers or support programs for deaf and blind students. But in Oklahoma, a history teacher with political ambitions helped a Florida tech company win a no-bid state contract to rapidly distribute $8 million to families with little government oversight. Another $10 million went to private school vouchers. 

With few guardrails, some families used Oklahoma’s share of federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds to buy Christmas trees, gaming consoles, electric fireplaces and outdoor grills, an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier has found. 

Months later the teacher, Ryan Walters, was on a national stage as Stitt’s new Secretary of Education, calling the effort a success. 

Suffice it to say that we define success quite differently.

Based on this, can we say for certain that Walters would be bad at managing a multi-billion dollar budget? Sure, it’s only one data point, but on that one point, we know that the federal government is attempting to claw back more than $650,000. Malfeasance has consequences. 

I’ll close with a line from the editorial in today’s Stillwater News Press:

Walters had an opportunity to oversee public funds for education and he failed in his duty to manage them.

Dr. April Grace has the experience to manage the finances of Oklahoma’s educational system. Clearly, her opponent does not.

Reason #6 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Credibility

August 12, 2022 Comments off

In case you missed the debate earlier this week between Dr. April Grace and Ryan Walters, you can still watch it on the Fox 25 website. If you haven’t and won’t, and if you’ll indulge me, I can summarize:

Moderators: Thoughtful question
Walters: Woke indoctrination
Grace: Solution, specific example
Walters: Leftist administrators
Grace: Thoughtful ideas
…and repeat…

I’m not the only person who felt this way. After the debate, Fox 25 posted a survey to Twitter and left it open for 24 hours. Of the 772 people who voted, Grace won by nearly a 60 point margin. 

It’s not a scientific poll, but I think it captures the observations of people who are paying attention. We just need to get more people to pay attention. And quickly.

I also want to mention that the moderators did an excellent job of explaining the format and then following it so that the candidates could speak. They allowed Dr. Grace to show her experience mastery of education policy. Conversely, they allowed Mr. Walters to show that there’s not a lot of there there. Maybe this is why he doesn’t appear alongside his opponent very often.

According to, credibility is the quality of being believable or worthy of trust. If you listen Walters, you probably don’t hear that quality. Craig McVay, retired El Reno superintendent, breaks it down in one of his truck videos (which are hilarious parodies of Walters’s car videos).

In case you don’t want to follow the Tweet, Craig begins by showing Walters accusing Grace of lying about his involvement in the Class Wallet scandal. He then shows a clip of Walters admitting that even before he was Secretary of Education, he helped Class Wallet secure the no-bid contract. How did he do that? Well, go back and re-read my last post if you need clues.

Craig goes on to say, “the people of Oklahoma have all the receipts…that’s morre than you have on 650 plus thousand dollars of taxpayer money. Not gonna fly, RyRy.”

I hope on August 23rd, Oklahoma Republican voters will choose the candidate who has substance in her speech. We can choose professionalism, or we can choose platitudes.

Previous: Reason #7 The company you keep

Next: Reason #5 Fiscal management

Reason #8 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Showing up

August 8, 2022 Comments off

In politics, name recognition is critical. Most politicians try to get out in front of as many people as they can. They do big events. They come to small meet-and-greets. When they are presented with opportunities to show contrast with their opponents, they go there too.

Alternatively, a candidate may rely on a campaign funded by out-of-state special interest groups, racking up name recognition with flyers and large ad buys. They still get invited to all the county party events. They just don’t go. This is the campaign that Ryan Walters is running.

There’s no grassroots connection to voters there. Similarly, he has little connection with parents – except those affiliated with the groups funding him.

Undoubtedly, trying to run a statewide campaign in Oklahoma is tough. Some of our 77 counties are hard to reach. Between filing in April, the primary in June, and even the runoff in August, I don’t think many candidates could go 77 out of 77. Still, you can be seen trying. Skipping that event with 13 people in NE Oklahoma might keep you from having 13 people singing your praises to their circle of influence. Dr. Grace thrives on those moments.

This June, the state superintendent candidates had the chance to make their case at the summer Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) conference. Three of the four people running for the Republican nomination were there. Walters was not. Similarly, he was on the agenda to speak at the Oklahoma Department of Career Tech Summit last week. He didn’t show up, but Dr. Grace did. My staff who were there told me she was genuine and passionate. That’s April – not just campaign April. That’s who she is every single day.

You want to lead us? Show up. Tell us what you’re about. You might not win us all over, but at some point, you’re going to have to get out of your car and work with us.

As I wrote yesterday, Dr. Grace responded to the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (OK-PLAC) questionnaire, and that Walters did not. One of their questions was about the use of vouchers and accountability for funds. 

Frankly, Walters runs from questions like this. Maybe it’s because his own conduct regarding the GEER allocations is in question. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t understand the rest of the question due to a lack of experience.

Having a presence with people is important. Answering questions matters. Having real Oklahomans support your campaign…well, you get it. You either want to support our public schools and can articulate how you want to do that, or you don’t. The out-of-state special interest groups that support the Walters campaign clearly have more access to the candidate than regular Oklahomans. 

If you’re interested, Dr. Grace and Mr. Walters will square off in a debate Tuesday at 5:00 on Fox 25. Let’s see if he can make it.

Previous: Reason #9: Communication

Next: Reason #7: The company you keep

Reason #9 to pick Dr. Grace over Mr. Walters: Communication

August 7, 2022 2 comments

Words matter. I’m not just saying that as a former English teacher. I’d feel that way even if life had taken me in a different direction.

Your words can paint clear pictures or they can be inexact, leaving room for interpretation and leading to consequential misunderstanding. Words can also uplift people and groups. Conversely, they can be weaponized. Worst of all, words can be tools of distraction – a smokescreen masking intent.

Political campaigns are terrible when it comes to the use of words. Whether you agree with my choice of candidates or not, can we all just admit that? I have several friends who are elected officials. I have others who have previously served or who have run unsuccessfully. Campaign language often lacks precision, specificity, and honesty. 

The race for State Superintendent here in Oklahoma illustrates all of these qualities. For example, the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (OK-PLAC) sent each campaign a series of questions to allow the candidates to describe their plans if elected. Dr. Grace responded. Mr. Walters did not. 

The fact that April responded matters as much as what she said. When asked about how she would approach her first year, she said, in part: 

“…I want to dive right into how we begin to shore up our teacher pipeline. I want to advocate for the reinstatement of the National Board stipends. I have been working with a group on how we can develop our own Teach for Oklahoma program. Additionally, I want to dig into the A-F report card and calibrating some aspects…. To be sure we have a lot of work to do to restore the respect of the profession.”

You can read more in the graphic below, courtesy of OK-PLAC.

Dr. Grace goes on to say that we need to continue to spotlight the good things our teachers and students are doing. While Walters didn’t respond to the questions, his car videos and social media outbursts give us some insight.

Here, Walters goes on one of his many rants about teachers and woke indoctrination of our students.

In this tweet, Walters seems to forget that it was Governor Stiitt’s appointees to the State Board of Education (SBE) who closed Oklahoma’s schools in 2020.

Walters even had an editorial in the Oklahoman this spring expressing outrage about teachers unions and insisting that teachers shouldn’t be required to join them. As someone who has been a classroom teacher, he obviously knows that union membership isn’t mandatory. 

It was a completely dishonest attack meant to divide rather than inform. And he knows that.

Even his attempts at word play fall flat.

Listen, I love good puns. “Oklahoma not Wokelahoma” is objectively terrible.

Sometimes, his word choice doesn’t even make sense. When the SBE sanctioned Tulsa and Mustang a couple of weeks ago, Walters spoke during the public comment period. When he puffed his chest about it later that day, he claimed he had “testified.” Testimony is when someone asks you to be there and speak. Public comment, on the other hand, is when you just show up and speak your mind. During the public comment period, a candidate’s voice carries no more weight than that of any other citizen. 

He’s overstating the importance of his actions – probably since the “job” he has as Secretary of Education has very little authority over anything.

My biggest personal beef with Walters came in January. As the Omicron wave knocked students and teachers out of school, we were trying everything imaginable to provide instruction. We had cleared out the central office to the extent we could and even had a state senator covering classes. Eventually, we made the difficult decision to cancel classes for two days and make the MLK Holiday a five-day weekend. As soon as we announced this, Walters lambasted our decision.

His response showed no understanding of what schools were fighting or how they were trying to manage the crisis. We were dealing with 25% student absences and almost 20% teacher absences. Our substitute fill rate was lower than ever. Did he call and ask for clarification? Of course not? Did he or any other member of the Stitt administration offer to help? What do you think?

Naturally, I responded. As you can see from the comment-to-like ratios, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Good leaders seek first to understand. Then they speak and act. This exchange made it clear to me that Walters, if elected, would not. 

For what it’s worth, after making that announcement, I received zero negative emails from parents or staff. That was a first during the pandemic era. That makes me think I’m more in touch with the parents in this community than the Secretary of Education ever could be.

Walters either does or doesn’t choose his words carefully. I honestly don’t care. Whether his gaffes are intentional slights or accidental slips of the tongue doesn’t matter to me. His statements show that he doesn’t respect the work that teachers and leaders are doing. Those of us who still vividly remember the Barresi years know why that’s dangerous.

Words matter. They let us see you for who you are. They show that Dr. April Grace is a serious person who has thought about the problems facing public schools that serve 700,000 students. They show that Mr. Walters is dead-set on vilifying educators and fueling the culture war that paints public education as a bad thing.

Previous: Reason #10: Leadership Experience

Next: Reason #8: Showing up

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

August 2, 2022 Comments off

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.

Why we can’t let Walters win (pt. 1)

If you are a registered Republican who supports public education, you need to keep reading. In case you missed it, Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters took a break from filming car videos on Thursday to set foot in the building where he’d like to have an office for the next four years. He signed up to speak during the public participation portion of the State Board of Education meeting. 

He used his three minutes to trash Tulsa Public Schools, calling on the SBE to review the accreditation of TPS, and to review their superintendent’s certification. He also took a couple of jabs at the person he wants to replace, Superintendent Hofmeister, who in turn wants to replace his boss, Governor Stitt.

The SBE was already scheduled to discuss the accreditation of TPS. After receiving a recommendation from State Department of Education officials to change the district’s accreditation to “accredited with deficiency,” they decided that they would go even further, all the way to “accredited with warning.” Watching from my office between meetings, it seemed to me that at least one SBE member would have been willing to go all the way to “accredited with probation.”

The difference between these designations matters. The fact that the SBE is willing to go rogue – and that some of the board members are willing to step all the way to the edge of non-accreditation – should alarm all of us. The fact that they blindsided another district (Mustang) with only adds volume to that alarm. Nothing on the agenda indicated that Mustang was going to be receiving any kind of deficiency or warning, but that didn’t stop the SBE from giving them the exact same designation as Tulsa.

I won’t get into the alleged violations of HB 1775 in Tulsa or Mustang. In spite of everything that has been posted to social media since the SBE meeting, I don’t have a good feel for the sequence of events. The SBE didn’t discuss any evidence they reviewed. No representatives from the districts were there to explain what happened or discuss what they have done since the alleged violations. As a superintendent, I understand that there are times you can’t share all the information you have. For the SBE, this would not have been one of those times. 

All we really learned Thursday is that the governor’s chosen candidate for State Superintendent and most of his appointed SBE members want us all to be on notice. If we cross them, they will come after our districts. They will come after our certificates. They don’t even have to have evidence or give you a chance to defend yourself.

It was nothing less than a shot across the bow for all of us.


Going into June’s Republican primary, I wrote about why I support Dr. April Grace for State Superintendent. As I said then: 

In Oklahoma, the Superintendent of Public Instruction is an elected position. The state constitution lists no qualifiers for the position other than age and residency. As a life-long, fourth-generation Oklahoman, as a 29 year educator, and the son of a retired teacher, I’m looking for the candidate who I believe can help students, help public schools, and help communities thrive over the next four years.

I was nice in the post. I only said positive things. One of the other primary candidates, Dr. John Cox, is a friend and fellow superintendent as well, and I would have happily supported him if he had won. We need an educator with strong leadership experience running education in the state. I was less enamored with the other candidates, but I kept my thoughts on them to myself.

Now that we are headed towards a run-off election on August 23, I want to contrast the candidate I prefer with the alternative. I want to make it clear to educators and to all Oklahomans who support public schools that Ryan Walters is dangerous. He is unprepared. He is a puppet of individuals and groups hell-bent on destroying public schools. As the editorial board for the Stillwater News Press wrote this weekend:

It’s increasingly apparent that the goal for people who have been placed in oversight roles for public education in Oklahoma are deliberately trying to undermine it in the interests of privatization. They’ve sold a bill of goods to parents that they are trying to root out “leftist indoctrination” and “woke” ideologies but the latest action gives further evidence that the game is rigged.

This is why we all need to care. This is why we all need to vote. We have 23 days until the runoff between Dr. Grace and Mr. Walters. We get to choose between someone who supports teachers and school leaders and someone who denigrates the hard work they do. We get to choose between someone with decades of experience and someone who received his position in state government in order to serve the desires of people trying to wreck the hard work of Oklahoma’s educators.

A couple of weeks ago, I started toying around with the idea of a #TopTen list of reasons not to vote for Walters. I haven’t had a prolific blogging month in a while, but this moment probably calls for it. The problem I’m running into is narrowing it down to ten.

Over the next three weeks, I’ll make my case, as one voter, as one educator, and as one life-long Oklahoman who cares deeply about the future of our state and profession. To anyone else with a platform, I implore you to do the same.

We have 23 days.

%d bloggers like this: