Moving Pictures at the OSDE

If you have attended a monthly board meeting at the Oklahoma Department of Education in the past twenty-five years, you have likely had an opportunity to view the wonderful portraits representing each of the members of the Oklahoma Educators’ Hall of Fame (OEHF).

Per the state department website, the OEHF was constituted and incorporated in 1984 as a nonprofit organization to recognize and to honor those professionals who have exemplified a commitment of quality public-supported education while demonstrating exceptional abilities in realizing the ideals of research, service or leadership through their contribution to Oklahoma education. The Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame is co-sponsored by the Oklahoma chapters of Phi Delta Kappa International, private donors and other underwriting organizations.

The portraits honoring our esteemed Oklahoma educators have graced the public hallway on the south side of the building leading to the board room for decades. It was a fitting way to recognize some the finest educators and school leaders in Oklahoma history. With the addition of three new members this year, the HOF includes 91 outstanding educators who have made an indelible mark on our state through their leadership and passion for education.

The list of honorees includes such noteworthy names as Freda Deskin, current Tulsa Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard, long-time state superintendent Sandy Garrett, and Dr. Oliver Hodge, the person for whom the state department building is named.

Below is the portrait of former Superintendent Garrett along with pictures of two of the 2013 inductees—current Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow and CCOSA Executive Director Steven Crawford.

You are probably curious why I was speaking in past tense in my description above. This is because, as of last Wednesday, the OEHF has been dismantled and relocated to other parts of the building.  According to OSDE employees, approximately half of the pictures were moved to an interior hallway and the rest are now hanging in the first floor north hallway. Both areas are behind electronically secured doors which require a security badge to access. As a result, many of these pictures will no longer be available for viewing by the public, or by the HOF members and their families, unless they time to sign in with the receptionist in the main office and obtain a security badge.

Here is what the hallway looks like today.

So, who made the decision to move all of these HOF portraits to other parts of the building? No surprise here. Based on credible sources at the OSDE, this directive was made by Superintendent Barresi. Why would Dr. Barresi order this action with only three months remaining in her term? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.

This may seem like one of those mountain out of a molehill things. I’m certainly not questioning Dr. Barresi’s authority to move pictures around in her own building. While many of us wish she would just go away, she is still in charge until her successor is sworn in this January. Therefore, if Dr. Barresi wants to replace the White Cloud with Charmin Triple-Ply in all the staff restrooms, that is her prerogative. Likewise, if she wants to replace the HOF portraits with student artwork or wallpaper the entire hallway with A-F report cards (I probably shouldn’t give her that idea), she is entitled to do so.

However, after making so many questionable decisions over the past few years, and observing first-hand how she deals with her critics, it has become natural to question her motives. It’s no secret that she is not a big fan of Sandy, Keith, Lloyd, Steven or Freda. The feeling is likely mutual. Is it fair to ask if a level of spitefulness is involved in this decision? Probably not, but it does seem like these good folks deserve an explanation.

One reason why this decision bears scrutiny is the fact that no one even took the time to communicate this plan to anyone at the Oklahoma Educators’ Hall of Fame. The Executive Director of OEHF, Dr. Sharon Lease, and the current President, Eugene Earsom, had no idea the display had been dismantled and moved until I brought it to their attention a few days ago.

It seems to me that Janet or one of her staffers should have picked up the phone or at least sent an email to the OEHF leadership, just out of respect and basic politeness. Why wouldn’t they be included in this decision-making process? These portraits have been in this same location for 25+ years. Yet now, with just three months left in office, Dr. Barresi unilaterally decides to move this public display from a location of high visibility to another location in the building where very few people outside of the OSDE will ever see it.

This type of decision-making has become emblematic of Barresi’s leadership at the state department. It really doesn’t seem to matter what anyone else thinks. If Janet wants to do it, she just does it, and the hell with anybody who disagrees. It is just another example of her disrespect towards professional educators in our state.

January cannot come soon enough.

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