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Midwest City Hotel from June 9th through 11th— just a few days after Governor Fallin signed House Bill 3399 that repealed common core standards in Oklahoma.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.
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!