NORMAN — State Superintendent Janet Barresi addressed some serious questions and concerns from high school students and community members during a visit to Norman Public Schools Friday.
Barresi’s day-long visit culminated in two afternoon forums — one with a select group of Norman High and Norman North high school students, the second with community members and educators invited by the district — in which the floor was open for questions from those attending.
“I do this every week, sometimes visiting multiple school districts per week, and it is instructive to me to hear the questions, concerns and thoughts of individuals in the areas I visit. I cannot tell you how helpful and instructive it is for me and my staff to go out and hear these people, it puts a face on these things and gives meaning to everything we do.”
The group of 16 students was dominated by juniors and seniors enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, and their concern over expansion of Advanced Placement programs was met with reservation from Barresi.
“(Regarding AP programs) We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Barresi said. “We need to increase the number of minorities involved in AP courses and need to improve the test scores on AP exams. We do need to increase the variety of exams offered in the state, but we’ve expanded the number of seats available for AP teacher training and each year we add three more high schools to the cohort and will continue to until each district offers AP.”
Students also raised concerns about their respective schools’ state report cards in he A-F system, scholarships applicable to out-of-state institutions, online courses, and the legitimacy of requiring courses such as Oklahoma History or Personal Finance, for which Barresi maintained strong support.
“I love interacting with students, it’s a crucial part of my job and speaking with you all gives me great hope for the future of our state,” Baressi said, concluding the student forum.
The community forum included pointed questions from teachers and PTA members about the fairness of the A-F grading system, teacher leader evaluation, school safety and the climate of the state’s communities regarding education as a whole.
“The grading system is not to be a punishment on educators — this is a huge misunderstanding on the part of critics. It is a report of a staple arc of proficiency that cuts across poverty, race, ELL, all of that. If there was a finger pointing at educators there would be consequences for bad grades, and no administrators have been fired and no bond issue has failed because of this system.
“Agree with it or not, one important thing the grading system has done is create wonderful conversation about school performance. I will not apologize for the fact that I believe the only way out of poverty is education. If the system does point out poverty, I’m not shaking a finger at it — the work in this state has been inspirational and people now have information and I will not back down or apologize for that,” Barresi said.
Barresi did emphasize that changes have been recommended to the system, saying she and her staff will always seek ways to improve the system.
“I respect and thank you for your questions, I understand your concerns and we will continue to proudly report the improvement of education in our state and I can tell you one thing, the arrow is going up,” Barresi said.
When asked about whether the State Department of Education is seeking or recommending any new safety measures in schools, Barresi’s response was somber and ultimately indirect, favoring a facility-specific approach given Oklahoma’s wide spectrum of urban and rural school districts and varying design/age of buildings themselves.
Barresi concluded by highly praising the Norman district and credited its success to the strong support of its community.
Norman Supertintendent Joe Siano said he was pleased with the visit and grateful to Barresi and her staff.
“I think it was a great day, Dr. Barresi met with valuable stakeholders, teachers, board members and students, so I think it was a great oppurtunity for us to show what Norman Public Schools is and what a quality public education system should be,” Siano said.