I come to the end of the year with such mixed emotions.
The school shooting in Connecticut is still fresh on everyone’s minds. As we watch the news and see the funerals for these precious students and their teachers and principal, we grieve anew for the enormous loss for these families.
Many of the conversations I’ve had this past week revolved around school safety. I reiterate my earlier call to all educators throughout the state to review their safety plans and update them as needed. This will be different for each district in the state as each district has its own geography and architecture. Local boards should decide what best meets their needs. Still, every school must practice lockdown drills twice each year, and it is important to make sure communications plans are in place both internally and for parents. Keeping our children safe must be our goal. The more prepared we are, the better our chances of protecting our most precious resource – our children.
I support the work of Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, and House Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon who announced on Thursday the formation of a School Security Commission. The trio said they will work to make sure security in our schools is as good as it can be and that as a state we are doing everything we can. In addition, they want to address mental health and make sure we are doing everything possible to address needs in this area as well. I am eager to hear the findings of this group and will offer the full support of my office to enact any measures they deem necessary.
While tragedy has taken up much of our thoughts recently, I don’t want to forget all of the good that has happened in Oklahoma this year.
In October we rolled out our state’s first A-F report card. Since then I have heard many accounts of initiatives at school districts throughout the state that are drawing educators, parents and community members together to brainstorm ways to boost student achievement and raise school grades. I read a wonderful article in The Oklahoman this week in which Western Heights Superintendent Joe Kitchens along with middle school Principal Randy Atkins, teachers, parents and community leaders, organized a grassroots initiative called the One Kid Challenge, or “OKC” for short. Their goal is to get one adult with one child for one hour once a month to focus on math and reading. This was the point of A-F, to give parents and others outside of education a way to understand school performance and start these types of conversations.
We’ve also made some strides in student test scores. We heard earlier this year that Algebra II scores on ACE end-of-instruction tests — one of the most important indicators for college readiness — were up 21 percentage points compared to 2008. Students also showed gains in Algebra I, Geometry and English III. Additionally, 2012 OCCT (Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests) math results for grades 3-8 and OCCT reading results for grades 3-8 saw modest gains. At the same time, we saw college remediation rates drop for the first time in many years, which indicates more students are graduating high school better prepared for college.
Our REAC3H Coaches, meanwhile, are seeing positive responses to their work on literacy. Teachers are excited and energized to utilize the strategies they teach through job-embedded training. I am grateful for all of their hard work, as I am for the hard work of all educators throughout Oklahoma.
I’m encouraged to see these positive changes in education for our state. It gives me hope that the goal of every graduate of an Oklahoma school being college, career and citizen ready is attainable.
I close this column wishing each of you a very blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.