Janet Barresi Shows Her True Colors!

I have made it clear before that I am not a journalist. As bloggers, we are governed by a slightly different set of rules. I am often hindered by the inability to reveal sources or compel people to provide me with information. For example, if I called our State Department and said: “Hi there. This is Rob Miller from Jenks. Mind if I ask a few questions for my blog,” I would likely be hung up on or told in graphic detail what I could do with my questions!

I am also ever conscious of my position as a public figure and Jenks district employee. Yet, within certain limits, I am relatively free to publish whatever I want to on my own time using my own home computer.

At the same time, maintaining credibility and personal integrity is very important to me. I do my best to conduct thorough research and get separate verification of any material provided by readers. If I am speculating or not sure about something, I will try to frame my arguments so it is clear that this is my opinion and not necessarily fact.

I say all this as a prelude to tonight’s post. The information I am sharing is potentially explosive. The comments and quotes were sent by a teacher who attended a recent State Department Convening Event in Midwest City.

According to the SDE website: “The Summer Convening is to bring Oklahoma educators together to evaluate, clarify, and assess the needs of our state in regards to the upcoming transition to new standards for English Language Arts, Math, and Science. Teachers will collaborate and analyze progressions to develop resources such as comparisons, curriculum maps, and guidance on assessments.”

This year’s convening was held at the Sheraton Midwest City Hotel from June 9th through 11th— just a few days after Governor Fallin signed House Bill 3399 that repealed common core standards in Oklahoma.

Three different working groups of teachers (one for each content area) assembled to work together on a roadmap to develop our new state standards. At one point during the events on Tuesday, June 10, the participants were brought together into one of the conference rooms. There were approximately 65 people in attendance for this pullout meeting, including at least four SDE Curriculum Directors: Levi Patrick (Secondary Math), Josh Flores (ELA), Jennifer Lamb (Elem Math), and Tiffany Neill (Science). There was also a SDE employee videotaping the proceedings who also conducted short interviews of participants throughout the day.

Once assembled, a special guest—Dr. Janet Barresi—was introduced and the door to the room was closed. The Superintendent spoke with the teachers for about 22 minutes. Several people, including the SDE employee, videotaped the event. Despite my best efforts, I have not yet been able to get a copy of Barresi’s entire remarks. I am still working on it! However, I have verified the following comments with multiple independent sources. I would not be publishing this information if I was not certain that it was factual.

Let me say first that most of what Dr. Barresi said during her off-the-cuff remarks was relatively innocuous. She discussed with participants the process the SDE would be following during the standards setting process. Dr. Barresi talked about how the Governor’s signing of HB3399 essentially ended common core standards in Oklahoma. She said the legislature was very specific in saying that schools SHALL use the 2010 PASS standards and not common core.

She thanked the teachers for their work and asked for their support in helping to develop the best standards in the nation. Barresi spoke about how the SDE would be asking for input from every stakeholder group and that the process would be robust and thorough. She also discussed how the new assessments would use the older PASS-aligned test items until new standards were adopted. Fairly standard stuff for the most part.

Yet, there were several comments that left participants shaking their heads. These are direct quotes from teachers who were present in the room when Barresi spoke. They have asked to remain anonymous for fear of possible retribution.

Dr. Barresi said that the task of rewriting the academic standards reminded her of how the community of Moore had to rebuild after last year’s tornado. She described a scene where she saw a concrete foundation and stated ‘this is where we are’ with the new standards. She then said Moore was able to rebuild and we will too. Several teachers from Moore Public Schools were astonished she would compare these two events.

Dr. Barresi said she prays for teachers every night (voice cracking almost crying) and people will try to fight against us and to be strong.

Dr. Barresi continued on and told us to go home and read our bibles and specifically look at the chapter of Nehemiah. She said that in Nehemiah it talks about putting on chest armor and building a wall for protection. She inferred that this is how she felt and that it was her responsibility (God’s will) to make this happen.

Dr. Barresi stated the legislature has let the State of Oklahoma down and now they need to “pony up” and give us the funds to start over. When she said ‘pony up,’ she raised her hand in the air and rubbed her thumb across her other fingers and said it (like Johnny Manziel flashed the money sign after being drafted).

She continued on with the most shocking of statements. She told us that if anyone tries to tear us down to tell them to “GO TO HELL“.

You’ve never seen such a quiet room of teachers. Most of us had our hands over our mouths to keep them shut.

Many of us that witnessed these statements were speechless. After she was done, we went back to our respective working rooms and sat in silence for several minutes. It was like watching Jekyll and Hyde in action.

Obviously, it is challenging to address these items without having seen the entire video. The video clip I have seen is of limited audio quality but I am able to confirm most of what was shared by this teacher. Here are my initial perceptions relative to Superintendent Barresi’s remarks to these teachers.

1. To compare the rewriting of state academic standards to the rebuilding of a Oklahoma community ravaged by a horrific F5 tornado where 24 people, including nine children, lost their lives seems insensitive and completely detached from reality. The scope of these two “rebuilding projects” is not within the reasonable realm of comparison.

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2. All Americans have the absolute right to worship (or not worship) the God of their choice. I also have no problem with private individuals sharing their religious beliefs, within reason. However, Dr. Barresi is a publicly-elected state employee in charge of a diverse organization. Likewise, the teachers whom she was addressing were undoubtedly from varied backgrounds and belief systems. I can live with the “I’m praying for you” remark though it can come across as pandering or insincere in this kind of setting. But, to direct a group of educators to “go home and read their Bibles” is over the line. This comes dangerously close to proselytizing and should not happen in this type of public setting. I cannot imagine starting a faculty meeting at my school with a prayer, yet I am told this is common practice by many leaders at the SDE. Nor would I ever tell one of my staff members to go home and read his Bible. In my humble opinion, it is not appropriate for Dr. Barresi to do so either.

3. The Book of Nehemiah tells the story of how Nehemiah is informed that Jerusalem is without walls and resolves to restore them. The king appoints him as governor of Judah and he travels to Jerusalem. There he rebuilds the walls, despite the opposition of Israel’s enemies, and reforms the community in conformity with the Law of Moses. Here are the verses I believe Dr. Barresi is referencing:

Nehemiah 4:15-17 “When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.…”

Again, like my previous comment about comparing rewriting academic standards to a tornado recovery, Dr. Barresi now resorts to a Biblical passage that makes it sound like this process will be similar to a Holy War. Is she trying to recruit people to this process or scare them away? The rebuilding of Jerusalem in 444 BC has absolutely no relevance to the rewriting of academic standards in 2014. Her assumption or public inference that she was “chosen” for this task is egotistical and vain.

4. The fact that Superintendent Barresi continues to disparage Legislators of her own party in public explains why at least 45 of them have come out in support of Joy Hofmeister’s candidacy. This is simply evidence of her inability to “play well with others,” even those who have defended her in the past.

5. Finally, after spending several minutes spouting religious references, Dr. Barresi actually tells the group of assembled teachers that if anyone questions their work or tries to tear them down, to tell them to “GO TO HELL.She REALLY said this. It was not “h-e-double toothpicks,” “the land down under,” or any such euphemisms. If you are against her or the process she has established for these new standards, you can just go to hell. This is exactly what she means. We have now moved from her “I’ll be damned” comment from last November to a “You will be damned” warning today. As strongly as I disagree with her on nearly every issue, it would never cross my mind to direct these kinds of words against her. This is pathetic, outrageous, and unprofessional—not to mention hypocritical.

Maybe Dr. Barresi would be wise to refer to her own Bible in this case. The Biblical understanding of the word hypocrite is rooted in the original meaning of the Greek word “hypokritai” which means “stage actors.” It is easy to see how this word has come to mean someone who is phony. For what they claim to be, they really are not, they are just acting a role. But when no one is looking (i.e. the audience is gone) they revert to their true self, which is someone quite different.

Last night, many of us watched the chameleon-like performance of our State Superintendent during her live debate on Tulsa channel 8 (KTUL). While an absolutely terrible state leader, Barresi is a polished bureaucrat. She is able to deceive and obfuscate with dexterity and presents a caring, happy persona to the viewing audience.

Last week, a group of 65 educators saw Dr. Barresi’s true colors on display and they were shocked. They should not be. This is the Janet Barresi that many others have already witnessed on numerous occasions. This is the Janet Barresi who has refused to work with school leaders and teachers on any of her reform initiatives. This is the Janet Barresi who smears her opponent with advertisements calling her a liberal and dishonest. This is the REAL Janet Costello Barresi.

She can longer fool us with her phony smiles and hollow rhetoric. We have to do everything we can in the next four days to ensure that others are not fooled either.

Janet Barresi does not deserve four more months in office, let alone four more years!

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28 thoughts on “Janet Barresi Shows Her True Colors!

  1. I agree with what you said ELA Teacher. It was like she wanted to take credit for what we were doing. She was not there when we talked about what we wanted to do. I found it fascinating at all the people walking around and seeing what we were doing. Again, just like it was the SDE’s great idea for us to be doing what we were doing. I still find it amusing how she acted about the testing. I knew good and well we had questions, but she acted like it was going to be this great effort to make the change.

  2. As a parent who has buried a child, the comments from Barresi were highly offensive and inappropriate. As a Christian, I find it unbelievable that she would even encourage teachers to take this verse from the Bible and act on it, in light of the recent shootings, “Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.” Again, what was she thinking? As for the testing, it’s all worthless. Unless they go back in time and create a testing program that shows the academic skills of a student at the beginning of the year, and uses that same tool to measure the academic skills at the end of the year, we will never know if a student is making academic progress, we will only know if they can pass or fail a grade level test (I’m referring the IOWA and CAT testing I had as a child). Oklahoma teachers use curriculum with differentiated instruction in order to teach all students and often, many of those students are below grade level when they enter our classrooms, especially the students on IEP’s in special education. Special education uses assessment tools to measure academic skills and to track progress, the only true measure of how that student is doing. What we had before this year was better than common core because we had modified tests for our special education students, but those tests were also pass/fail tests and they are not a tool to improve curriculum, teacher skills, or student academics. Oklahoma education bureaucrats need to look at what their goals are and design a tool that will match those goals. Is it our goal to help the student progress academically or to determine if the student is working “satisfactory” at grade level? If Oklahoma bureaucrats are going to base teacher pay raises on student academics, they need to be measuring progress. Many move in students are working well-below grade level when they move into my district and may not be at grade level at the end of the year, but they have made HUGE progress and THAT is the true sign of an effective teacher, not a grade level pass/fail test.

    • First, I am so sorry for your loss of your child. I cannot imagine the pain associated with that. Your comments are spot on. Thanks so much for lending your voice to this discussion. People in power need to be careful of the words they use. I am hopeful that others will vote to remove this person from office.

  3. Yesterday, I became aware that Janet Barresi referenced the city of Moore in a reelection speech. She discussed the loss and destruction that our community suffered on May 20th of last year. She actually compared the difficulties educators are facing (due to her own failed leadership) to the struggles the community of Moore has faced in rebuilding after an F-5 tornado took lives and destroyed entire neighborhoods. Her words are disturbing, hurtful, insulting, disgusting, out of line, and are in no way appropriate for a desperate campaign. And this isn’t the first time she has done this. Janet Barresi has tried to capitalize politically on our pain and struggles several times over the past year.

    Dr. Barresi, please stop referencing my town. Please stop trying to capitalize on my community’s pain. A year ago you had opportunities to help. You refused and we moved forward with outstanding local leadership. Please let us continue our rebuilding without suffering your campaign any further.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Krows
    Vice-Mayor
    City of Moore

    • Don, they have the information but chose to not run it at this time. They abide by the blackout rule prior to elections. If Barresi is still in after Tuesday, they will publish.

  4. I just want to say I was at the convening and everything you’ve reported about her speech is completely accurate. I did not video tape the speech myself, but I wish I had because people can hardly believe she said these things. Also, the quote about the purpose of the convening was from last year’s application. It was originally intended to create resources for common core, not to help transition again in any way this year. One thing very unsettling for me was that she suggested during her speech that our mission was to somehow work toward transitioning for this fall. My group actually wondered if we were suppose to drop what we had been working on and make something new. We’d just been trying to make some great lesson plans for our colleagues around the state to use if they were so inclined. I felt like she was appropriating our work and labeling it as proof she was working on the problem already.

  5. Another thing, she was asked specifically about testing for next year and acted like they would have to get together to put together another assessment based on PASS. Do we not own the items and the questions from past tests? I sat in several reviewing committees for testing and have a hard time believing that the work we did has just been disposed. No straight answer was given on anything that was asked of her.

  6. I have to say, I was in that room and was shocked. I have never seen anything like that. Another interesting note is that we had other leaders from the SDE just walking around,and stopping to ask questions on Wednesday.

  7. It is unfortunate that anyone would compare writing academic standards to the tragic events that numerous communities faced during the storm season of 2013. I was not at the most recent “closed door meeting” but several that were present have confirmed that the comments attributed to Dr. Barresi in Mr. Miller’s blog are accurate. Let me begin by offering a pat on the back, a smile, a handshake, or even a hug to any and all communities across this state that began the rebuilding process immediately after disaster struck their areas. The communities of Moore, SW OKC, and the employees of Moore Public Schools (MPS) completely understand all of the challenges that you might have faced over this past year. A great quote to live by – Never, Never, Ever Give Up!

    My response to Dr. Barresi’s comments will focus on Moore and its community because I am here and that is what I know. Our school district and its community are known for their resilient spirit, unwavering support for others, and determination – that is who we are and that is who we will always remain. These are attributes that we will continue to display in the event of tragedy or in something as simple as change. The 2500 plus employees of MPS are committed to doing what is best for our students, and we simply ask that the State Department of Education rely on the people in the trenches to help with making the changes needed over the next few years. We can do this without telling others “where to go” and asking for certain groups to “pony up”. Over this past year, not once did I have to tell anyone “where to go” or “pony up” and the school district and its people have accomplished much success! MPS and other communities have proven that great things can happen with the right attitude, spirit, and determination. In the future, I would humbly request that no one from the State Department of Education or any other agency use Moore Public Schools, our tragedy, and our rebuilding projects to help their cause.

    Please read the quote below by Henry Ford slowly – take it in – truly process the words and understand the meaning.

    “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
    – Henry Ford

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Robert Romines
    Superintendent
    Moore Public Schools

  8. Many years ago she was my dentist at a time when I was in a museum education job. Her primary conversation was about creating a charter school for her sons (twins I think)so they could get a good education since they could not get one in public schools. I wish I could remember all the ideas she spouted to which I nodded to acknowledge understanding (after all, she had sharp things in my mouth!) but mentally I was thinking that I would never under any circumstances send a child to a school with a curriculum she had developed. At that time, I believed her to be well-intentioned but I also saw the way she ran her office and the control she exerted at every position. I was very disturbed when she ran for public office.

  9. I have been an educator in the state of Oklahoma for 19 years and usually stay out of political debates and usually keep my opinions to myself BUT I have HAD it!! In my position I have sometimes had the opportunity to work with SDE employees. Most experiences have been very positive. However I clearly remember when Baressi first took office and visited my working group. She talked about testing and standards. We asked questions specifically about the modified tests for our SPED students. We were so proud that Oklahoma was one of the only states who recognized the diverse needs of this special group of students and were very concerned and hopeful under her leadership that this would continue. Baressi said in no uncertain terms that ‘yes’ we would continue to offer modified tests to special needs students. Our group was very grateful as she left us with her big smile! Imagine my astonishment when not 2 weeks later the SDE director of testing told the same group that modified tests for special needs students would disappear!!! But, but…. We heard the words from The Superintendent!! Please check on this! A check was done = no more modified tests for some of our most needy students! I don’t know about you, but people this is an outright LIE in my book!
    Don’t believe the fake smile. It hides a hidden agenda!!

  10. Maybe she thought she was trying to “connect” with the audience when bringing up the tornado that ties so mNy if us together. However, she is so far from reality that she must not realize that 1) people hate her for her handling if the situation, and 2) rewriting state standards is NOT a disaster or war.

    She is totally off her rocker!

  11. I despise JB as much as anyone, but I am guessing that she was referring to the school administrators who have been adamant that they will continue teaching CC when she made the comment about going to h***. While it is still a competent inappropriate comment, she has been dealing with some very vocal defiance on the issue & should have chosen a better message.

    • Brooke, you’re probably accurate in your assessment. It has been a tough month or two for Barresi and I’m sure she if a bit frazzled. But, this is the bed she has made for herself. She doesn’t know how to lead people, build consensus, or manage change. It’s coming home to roost.

  12. If the SDE employees were video taping a session it seems like an FOIA request is in order. Maybe you could get the video without it, but hey…

  13. As a life long citizen and school administrator in Moore this makes me sick to my stomach. One of my teachers attended that meeting and she called me from her car that afternoon upset and told me all about this incident. Email me if you need another eye witness account.

    However, when I think back to Barresi’s poor behavior following the storms last May I am not surprised. She used our tragedy for photo opportunities. It was disgusting!

  14. Amazing enough she gave us in Moore broken promises! We don’t respect her or even respect her. Nice try dentist… Try again. Next time leave us out if it.

  15. Wow. Just wow. I’m afraid I could not have kept quiet had I been one of the teachers in that room listening to J.B. compare rewriting standards to rebuilding after the horrific, deadly Moore tornado. Her comments illustrate her instability. She needs to go.

  16. Nothing compares to the tornado. It’s a vile insult to say that. I’m not surprised.

    This is as bad as anything that I had in my countdown. Thanks for bringing her ongoing wicked ways to light, Rob!

  17. I am an award-winning reporter and editor with a degree in journalism, and it is my opinion that you are in fact a skilled journalist. One of the things I learned in journalism school is that reporters do not have any special privileges. We cannot compel people to speak to us, and we have no special access to information. The only difference between a reporter and a regular citizen is that a reporter has been trained to understand and use the resources available to all citizens. (That said, organizations and leaders often are often more willing to talk to people who buy ink by the barrel than the average Joe.) While you may not have formal journalism training, you are clearly more than capable (and more capable than many employed journalists…).

  18. I agree with the Jekyll and Hyde comment. She is unstable and lacks composure. She has been cracking under the pressure for sometime now.

  19. So very sad to hear the madness continues with the current leadership (or lack thereof) at the SDE. Oklahomans better understand that next Tuesday is as important, or maybe more important, then the Tuesday in November when we vote. Hopefully we will have another repeat of the Eric Cantor election in VA! Voting for Joy will be a first step in the right direction for the SDE. Thanks Rob for researching the things you write about, and thank you for being willing to share these things with others.

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