It would be safe to say that Superintendent Elect Janet Barresi has her work cut out for her. A former speech pathologist, then dentist for 24 years, it was her role as a mother that led her to a passion for education. Even then, she was convinced that Oklahoma schools could do better, and she took action, taking an instrumental role in establishing Oklahoma’s first charter school, Independence Charter Middle School.
Head to head with new challenges in what many consider an educational crisis, she is keeping her eye on the prize: the success of Oklahoma students.
In a recent interview, the Superintendent-elect described our current state of educational concern and her vision for Oklahoma education.
Q: What can we be proud of as far as Oklahoma education is concerned?
A: Our state is leading the country in early child programs. Having just returned from a national educational summit in Washington D.C., Oklahoma is receiving kudos for the quality of our early childhood programs.
Q: What do you see as our number one top concern/problem in Oklahoma schools?
A: The most immediate concern is assuring that we get dollar bills into the classroom as soon as possible. I have called for a financial audit so we can really take a look at the way our money is being spent in education. We need to rethink how we are spending dollars and create a new normal. I think we also need to ask ourselves if the money is really benefiting our children. We need to be fiscally responsible and it needs to be restructured.
Q: It seems that immense testing performance pressure is put on Oklahoma school children, even at a young age. Do you feel this will ever have a negative impact?
A: If we don’t reform, it will. Our current testing is comparing Oklahoma students with Oklahoma students. We need to move to a national test. We also need to prepare our children for life demands across the world. Currently we are testing memory. We need to assess a student’s thinking skills as well. Creativity skills are important.
Q: Public perception seems to be that the state lottery would be the answer to state education budget shortfalls. Why hasn’t the lottery help to “fix” our education budget?
A: The problem with the lottery is that it has never met revenue projection. Also, it is distributed on a month-tomonth basis. It’s not a consistent number.
Q: You are working towards performance pay for teachers. What would be your ideal evaluation system?
A: There are some great models across the country. For instance, we are watching Tulsa closely. The evaluation would be very balanced, including test scores (growth model), professional development and other components. Again, it would be a very balanced evaluation.
Q: So many times school counselors are stuck with secretarial work, testing duties, and administrative duties. What do you feel is a school counselor’s role?
A: We need to rethink this. A school counselor needs to be there to guide the kids and be a true school counselor.
Q: Do you plan to initiate more interest in charter schools, and do you feel that’s beneficial to the child as an individual learner?
A: It is not my desire to spread charter schools across Oklahoma. We need to learn from the success of charter schools and take a close look at what is working. Each district needs a stronger voice. We need accountability and a strong focus on students. We have learned from charter schools that competition is a key component in assuring success.
As stated during her campaign, the Superintendent-elect feels strongly that we must teach kids how to think, not what to think. She supports local control and feels it is crucial we reduce government mandates that create too much bureaucracy and wasteful spending. Dr. Barresi is eager to go to work for our state’s most precious commodity, our children.
According to Barresi, some of the issues she will take on during her tenure as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction include:
- We must be honest about the problems we have—the high drop-out rate and remedial education needed in college prove that our current system is not working. It is time for fundamental reform and common sense solutions to prepare our kids for the demands of the 21st century.
- My focus will be on teaching and learning with an emphasis on the basics: reading, writing and math, particularly at the elementary level.
- I oppose the forced consolidation of schools districts. Forced consolidation has never led to improved academic results.
- I support the expansion of parental involvement and choice in their children’s education, and I will protect the right of those who choose to home school.
- I want to empower teachers by giving them the resources they need to be successful. Our test scores will rise as a byproduct of effective teaching.
- I encourage alternative certification for those with expertise in advanced mathematics and science so we can better prepare students for the next generation of high-paying jobs.
- I will promote legal reform to enable school districts to get rid of poor performing teachers. Currently, the potential legal fees make it economically unfeasible to fire bad teachers.
- I want to build on our successful CareerTech system to encourage more Oklahomans to get specialized training and facilitate learning for students who learn though a more hands-on method.