The past decade has been extremely difficult for Oklahoma public schools, as teachers’ wages stagnated and state aid to schools declined, Latta Superintendent Cliff Johnson said Wednesday. But he added that the picture is looking brighter these days.

“With that being said, I feel like we’ve hit the bottom and are moving the other way as far as support for our schools and improvement as far as morale of our staff, of our teachers,” Johnson said. “And therefore, I think you’re also going to see improvement in other areas at our schools.”

He said Latta’s teachers received their first raises in a decade in 2018 and another, smaller raise this year. And because the Oklahoma Legislature provided funds to give school support staff a raise, the school district was able to boost wages for those employees as well.

Johnson, Byng Public Schools Superintendent Todd Crabtree and Ada City Schools Superintendent Mike Anderson talked about the issues facing their school districts during the State of Education luncheon, which took place Wednesday at the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center. The Ada Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.

Emergency

certifications

The three superintendents touched on a variety of topics, including Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and school districts’ increased reliance on emergency-certified teachers.

The ongoing teacher shortage prompted the State Board of Education to approve more than 1,600 emergency certifications so far this year, said Superintendent Crabtree. He said that means students across the state are being taught by people who do not hold teaching certificates.

Crabtree said he has discussed the problem with state education officials, and they are searching for a solution.

“Obviously, everybody thinks the raise (for teachers) is going to help,” he said. “It has. I would have hated to start last school year — August of ‘18 — with people that weren’t getting a raise of some kind, because it would have been horrible.”

Crabtree said Oklahomans could alleviate the teacher shortage by starting a second career in education or prodding students to consider pursuing careers in the classroom.

Changing the rhetoric

Superintendents Johnson and Anderson also talked about focusing on the positive things that Oklahoma schools are doing instead of on their problems.

Anderson said when schools were struggling to make ends meet three years ago, he changed the tone of the discussion by focusing on Ada City Schools’ accomplishments. He said he told his employees to adopt a positive attitude instead of dwelling on the district’s financial woes.

“Our theme was very simple that year,” Anderson said. “I just told our folks, ‘Listen. Yes, tough times are ahead, but you’re entering into a no-negativity zone if you work at Ada. You don’t come on our campus, and you don’t come in our buildings, with a negative attitude.’ … This changed the rhetoric, and we did in our buildings.”

Anderson said Oklahoma’s leaders still have a lot of work to do on education, but he was confident that they would make good things happen for students.

Editor’s note: ECU President Dr. Katricia Pierson and Pontotoc Technology Center Superintendent David Lassiter also spoke at the State of Education luncheon. A story about their remarks will appear in Friday’s edition of The Ada News.

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.