Why I Hope for Joy!

I gather that most of us are looking forward to the end of this particularly long and tumultuous election season. This is especially true for the highly contested offices for Governor and State Superintendent for Public Instruction.

While the past few years have provided lots of fodder for education bloggers in our state, it has not been a positive four years for Oklahoma’s students, teachers, and schools.

Whoever wins the post for State Superintendent for the next four years will have an enormously challenging job on his or her hands. With Governor Fallin’s support and consent, Janet Barresi has completely run the OKSDE train off the rails and into a deep ravine. The cleanup will be extensive.

Oklahoma continues to lead the nation in the percent decrease (23%) in per-pupil funding for Oklahoma common education since 2008. And while the 2014 state budget was the largest in Oklahoma history, the percent allocated to common education (33.8%) was the lowest percentage since 1991. Educators have not seen a state increase in teacher salaries for ten years. Even slight increases in compensation at the district level have been offset by concomitant increases in health and dental premiums, meaning that many teachers are actually making less money now than they were five years ago.

Soon after Superintendent Barresi assumed office in early 2011, it became obvious that she had absolutely no interest in working with school administrators and teachers to improve public education in our state.

Janet’s nihilistic ideology was predicated on the false premise that our schools were failing and that educators were not adequately motivated to do anything about it. She spoke disparagingly about teachers and the organization which represents them, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). My previous district superintendent was accurate in referring to her as the State Superintendent of Private Education, as her clear motive from the start was to plant the seeds for expansion of charter schools and vouchers in Oklahoma.

In response to a critical report card for her from the OEA last November, Janet provided this angry and revealing response:

“I’ll be damned if I am going to let the union, or anybody else in the education establishment lose another generation of Oklahoma’s children. These are individuals who are opposed to accountability. These are individuals who are focused on maintaining their power base in the state of Oklahoma. This is part of the education establishment. They’re not focused on students, they’re focused on adults.”

One of the primary purposes of my blog and others has been to hopefully counter the distorted and damaging rhetoric and policy coming out of the Oliver Hodge Building over the past few years.

One thing we can all be thankful for this Tuesday is that the name ‘Janet Costello Barresi’ will be nowhere to be found. We owe this fact to Republican candidate for State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister.

In 2013, many educators, legislators, parents, and business leaders began the search for a candidate to challenge Janet Barresi in the Republican primary. I was very excited and optimistic when I heard that Joy had accepted the challenge. She did not seek this opportunity; she was asked to do this on behalf of the children, parents, and educators of Oklahoma. Joy agreed to put her family and her work on hold in order to take on a well-financed incumbent.

On June 24th, Joy survived an avalanche of negative ads paid for with Barresi’s own millions and won the primary. She did so convincingly, capturing all 77 Oklahoma counties and nearly 58% of the vote to only 20% for Barresi. That evening, thousands of us celebrated. I danced to the Pharrell William’s Happy Song on the beach in Florida. I’m still dancing!

Like many others, I have supported Joy since she first announced her intention to run. I continue to support her today because I believe she is the best candidate to lead our state department and effectively advocate for the best interests of Oklahoma’s public schools.

A former public school teacher and businesswoman, Joy Hofmeister has devoted her life to teaching students and promoting higher student achievement. She has spent the past 15 years operating Kumon Math & Reading Centers which works through parent partnerships to ensure higher academic achievement for children. Leading a staff of 40, Joy serves 750 students from public, private, charter and home schools. Joy’s students continue to rank in the top 1% of student achievement within Kumon’s 2000+ centers in North America.  Joy served as an officer for the Jenks Public Schools Foundation Board of Directors, the Select Committee for the Study of School Finance, and various other committees within the Jenks Public School District, as well as other civic and professional committees.

Let me also say that I have nothing negative to say about Joy’s Democratic challenger, Dr. John Cox. I understand why many of my fellow educators will be voting for John this Tuesday. Though I do not know him well, I have met him on several occasions and can say he seems like a genuinely likeable guy. He is a respected educator and successful superintendent with nearly thirty years of experience. I also concur with many of his positions relative to the over testing of our children, the restoration of local control, the dumping of our current state A-F report card, and pay increases for our hard-working educators.

That said, these are all positions that Joy has advocated for as well and, I believe, possesses a greater capacity with which to gain traction to actually make these things happen.

I trust Joy. She is smart, competent, hardworking, and tenacious. It became obvious soon after her appointment to the state school board in January 2012 that Joy was there to fight on our behalf and not merely serve as a minion for Barresi or Mary Fallin.

There are numerous examples in the public record of Joy taking on Barresi and her policies. If you would like to see specific evidence, read through the minutes of the March 2012 Board Minutes. In this meeting, Joy presented herself as knowledgeable and well-researched. She asked tough questions and did not back down when Barresi countered. During this particular meeting, Joy was one of two dissenting votes on the new OKSDE rules for A-F.

Throughout her 15 months on the state school board, Joy presented a tough, yet polished and conciliatory tone that serves as evidence of her desire for real solutions, not just discourse for the sake of debate. Joy is not opposed to reforms. Rather, she supports school improvement efforts that are homegrown and involve the active participation of those whom the reforms will impact. Joy possesses the ability to listen to others and inspire others to work together.

I also know first-hand that Joy was proactive in seeking the thoughts and opinions of people outside of the state department in reaching her positions. She called on district superintendents, key legislators, school teachers, business owners, and university leaders to help craft policies that supported accountability while affording appropriate levels of local autonomy.

Before the Primary Election, Joy earned the endorsement of 45 State Senate and State House members. More than half serve in leadership positions and 11 serve on House and Senate Education Committees. Joy is committed to building on those relationships to better advocate for Oklahoma students with our legislature. More recently, she had secured the endorsements of former Democratic State Superintendent Sandy Garrett and two former Secretaries of Education, Phyllis Hudecki and Floyd Coppedge.

As Sandy Garrett stated in her endorsement:

“Joy will be a superintendent for teachers. I believe teachers need and advocate at this critical time in our state’s history as we are witnessing an exodus of educators from our profession…we also need a leader who can collaborate at the state Capitol to achieve our goals. Joy has demonstrated an ability to build coalitions, and that is desperately needed if we are to put a renewed focus on education in Oklahoma. Our next state superintendent has to be effective.”

Our next state superintendent has to be effective. 

This is the biggest reason why I am placing my hope in Joy. She is fully aware of what she is up against and is committed to getting the job done. Her relationships with current state legislative leaders, government officials, teachers, school superintendents, and business owners make her uniquely qualified to build consensus and make genuine progress on cleaning up the mess left by Janet Barresi.

I am a pragmatist. While I agree with my friend at okeducationtruths and will also be casting a vote for Joe Dorman this Tuesday (my first time ever voting for a Democratic Governor), Joe’s chances of pulling the upset are not strong. If Fallin wins reelection, she will retain control over the composition of the state Board of Education and the Secretary of Education. We will be left with a super majority Republican House and Senate.

Our current scenario is eerily similar to what transpired in another dark red state two years ago.

In Indiana in 2012, Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, did the unthinkable by pulling a stunning upset over Republican schools boss Tony Bennett. Like Barresi, Bennett had attacked teacher unions and funneled education money into charter schools that essentially are owned and run by Republicans.

Ritz actually earned more votes than Republican Governor Mike Pence in his own reelection campaign. The Indiana Legislature also retained strong Republican majorities in both houses.

Glenda was elected based on a groundswell of public dissatisfaction with the manner in which school reforms had been pushed by Pence and Bennett in the previous four years. Bennett was a former Jeb Bush Chief for Change, along with our very own Janet Barresi.  Barresi sings from the same hymnal as these reformers and has mirrored her reforms (A-F, third grade retention, etc.) on similar changes in Indiana and Florida.

As with supporters of John Cox, citizens In Indiana thought that by electing Ritz that they would be able to stem the growth of charter schools and other reforms harmful to public education in their state. As the former head of the Indiana Teacher’s Association, educators believed that Ritz had the political savvy and strength to battle the reformers head-to-head and turn things around.

They were wrong.

Soon after the election, Governor Pence began working immediately with Republican leaders in the Indiana House and Senate to marginalize Ritz’s influence over education policy. Since the election in 2012, Pence has systematically stripped away the powers of the Office of State Commissioner of Education and transferred them to the State Board of Education, which he controls.

In August, 2012 Pence created an entirely new layer of bureaucracy, the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI). The role of the new CECI is to provide support staff to the State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor.

In other words, in one executive action, Governor Pence stripped Glenda Ritz of any direct control over the State Board. The CECI now reports directly to Pence and Republican legislative leaders. It employs 15 staff members, six of whom are paid over $100,000 a year, ostensibly to make life difficult for Ritz. Additionally, the legislature is currently working to strip additional powers from Ritz by taking away her title as chair and reapportioning the authority to the board as a whole.

In summary, the playbook has already been written on how to handle attempts by the citizens to take back the voice of public education. If John wins this election and pushes hard against the current Republican leadership, they will push back.

Like their contemporaries in Indiana, Governor Fallin and her allies in the legislature will move quickly to stack the Board of Education and stifle any attempts of John to roll back their reforms. Fallin and the legislature can add responsibilities to an existing state agency such as the State Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. In essence, Fallin and her Republican brethren in the Legislature can simply paint John Cox in a box and marginalize his potential impact.

Can the same thing happen if Joy Hofmeister is elected? I suppose it could, but I honestly believe that Joy possesses the knowledge, skills and personality to foster the type of working relationships necessary to move her agenda forward. Her agenda is one that the schools in Oklahoma desperately need to be successful.

My hope is that you will join me and support Joy Hofmeister for State Superintendent.

We cannot afford four more years of internal fighting and unproductive discourse.

On that note, I want to close with some wonderful thoughts from my fellow blogger Claudia Swisher. Claudia is the author of Fourth Generation Blogspot. A few days ago, she posted this excellent blog entitled,” One Week, Then the Hard Work Begins.”

As Claudia deftly articulates:

“Next Wednesday, new alliances must be forged, new plans must be made. After being fiercely supportive of one or another candidate, we must come together and move forward…together. For our kids. We must remember our ultimate goal is a robust public education for every child in our state, and we deserve to be part of the discussion, part of the solution.

Can we do it? We must. Our kids desperately need all the grownups in their lives to forge a new path together. We need to put differences aside. We need to reach out to our new office holders and offer to help, to be there, to work for Oklahoma kids, for #oklaed.

We must be able to say to our policy makers, “I voted; now I’m here to work. I want to forge policies, to ask important questions. To put a face on education reform in Oklahoma. I’m not going away. I will hold you accountable.” That’s why we voted.

Next Wednesday. One week. We will have had our say, and it will be time to step up and do the work.”

The work has just begun. I look forward to working with all of you in the upcoming months and years to take back public education in our state. Please vote and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

OKSDE: Mail the Damn Letter!We Say NO, and We Say it Loudly!
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