- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Oklahoman, Sept. 30, 2014

No quiet departure for Oklahoma schools superintendent

With a questionable hiring earlier this month, Janet Barresi has disabused any notion that she might quietly finish her time as Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction.

Barresi, a Republican, has been a lightning rod since winning election in 2010. Indeed her first state Board of Education meeting was a donnybrook, with two (now former) board members questioning Barresi’s proposed hiring of three new staffers. The GOP-controlled Legislature subsequently empowered the superintendent by stripping the board of its ability to approve agency hirings and firings, and by doing away with a requirement that state education jobs be posted.

Barresi, a lame duck after losing in the Republican primary in June, put her unilateral powers to use recently in hiring Larry Birney to the newly created position of assistant superintendent of accreditation and compliance, at a salary of $90,000. Birney’s wife is Kim Richey, who serves as Barresi’s general counsel.

News of the hiring drew a strong rebuke from state Rep. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, who called for the resignations of Barresi, Birney and Richey. He said the move by Barresi was “irresponsible and accomplishes nothing” and a “good ol’ boy hire.”

Birney has a master’s degree in educational administration and a doctorate in educational leadership. However he made his career in law enforcement, not education. He served 35 years as an officer in the San Antonio Police Department, and three years as head of the Council of Law Enforcement and Training (CLEET) in Ada.

Barresi’s chief of staff, Joel Robison, told the Tulsa World that the job was created because Barresi didn’t feel regional accreditation officers were qualified or had the expertise needed to dig into serious allegations made against local school district personnel. He also said turning allegations over to local district attorneys or the state attorney general wasn’t necessarily the best option because not all of them involved criminal wrong-doing.

OK. But why wait until the final few months on the job to make the hire? If the job had been created early in Barresi’s tenure as superintendent, it likely would have been viewed differently. But doing so now could be read as a sign that Barresi’s in a hurry to conduct a few specific investigations before leaving office at the end of this year. It also opens her up to suggestions that those probes might be politically motivated.

When Barresi won election in January 2010 promising a reform agenda, she enjoyed strong support from Republican lawmakers. Many have since parted company over such things as Barresi’s backing of Common Core State Standards, which eventually, and unfortunately, were scuttled in Oklahoma after opponents tied the effort to the Obama administration.

Many other former supporters have grown weary of Barresi’s management style. The rocky rollout of A-F testing for schools, and issues with the companies that administer standardized tests, translated into low favorability ratings and ultimately, a stunning third-place finish in a three-person Republican primary.

The theatrics at a state Board of Education meeting Thursday harkened back to the first turbulent meeting Barresi attended as superintendent. This time, Smalley asked for her resignation, and board member Leo Baxter called her leadership “toxic.” He too asked her to step aside. “I want the venom stopped,” Baxter said.

Barresi won’t resign, and shouldn’t. However this hiring flap is another regrettable piece of a term in office that began with great promise but got sideways early and strayed too often.


The Journal Record, Sept. 29, 2014

Tragedy in Moore makes case for gun education

Some gun-rights advocates have, once again, taken the wrong lesson from a violent crime.

Last week, the Vaughan Foods plant in Moore fired Alton Nolen. He returned moments later and grabbed a knife that was used in the facility. Within minutes he beheaded one woman, stabbed another repeatedly and was shot by Mark Vaughan, the company’s chief operating officer.

A good guy with a gun stopped a tragedy from turning into a mass-casualty event. Examiner.com called it “prima facie evidence that Americans need and should have unfettered access to personal firearms.”

Perhaps. But we must remember this: The man who stopped the bloodshed with a bullet was an off-duty Oklahoma County reserve deputy. Put another way: The attack was ended by a man with training, licensing and a gun.

Firearms have a legitimate place in our society. But they also kill an average of more than 11,500 people each year, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. And that’s if you don’t include more than 18,000 suicides.

Discussions about strengthening our laws are often shouted down by people who fear a world where only outlaws and jackbooted thugs have guns. The arguments start with an assumption that people who want more rules on firearms hope to eliminate guns from private hands.

If there are people who want to erase firearms, they’re a very small sliver of the discussion.

Most people who favor more regulation simply envision a country with less crime, and fewer scenes of destroyed schools and blood-drenched movie theaters. We know there’s no realistic way to make every situation safe - including more people carrying. Maj. Nidal Hasan’s spree at Fort Hood, Texas, shows that.

But we can hope to lower the number of people who are assaulted, robbed and shot. That can be accomplished by putting some reasonable requirements on gun owners: more background checks, mandatory training, and licensing. Simple limits, similar to the restrictions we put on people who control the potentially deadly hunks of metal we put on the roads every day.

Uniform wait times and other restraints could also help ensure that people like Nolen don’t walk in spraying bullets.

The Vaughan Foods killings show we sometimes need an armed response faster than police can provide. But the situation also demonstrates that we are all better off when the people with the guns have education and training.


Stillwater NewsPress, Sept. 28, 2014

Grading system needs work

School administrators, school boards and school parents agree that public schools in Oklahoma should be held accountable for the academic performance and classroom progress of students. There is no debate about that.

What is in debate is the best way to do it.

When the Oklahoma State Department of Education rolled out the A-F Grading System in 2013, the intent was to more effectively evaluate schools and simplify the assessment system.

But that notion seems to have clearly missed the mark.

Controversy ensued when the school grades were announced last year because many people believed the reports did not accurately portray school progress.

After several tweaks in the system, the second edition of the grading system was greeted by much the same response this fall. Many school administrators, even those who lead high-scoring districts, say the system is flawed.

Many opponents of the grading system believe the report cards do not accurately reflect academic performance in schools.

They believe the grading system is not transparent, too complicated and an unfair school assessment tool.

Linda Hampton, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said school district patrons across Oklahoma deserve better.

We believe the public should know how our schools are doing,” Hampton said.

“The purpose of any accountability system should be to improve teaching and learning so that all students can reach challenging standards.”

Hampton said the focus should be more on providing schools and students with resources instead of labeling them.

The state legislature and the OSDE need to continue working on making the system less complicated and more reflective of student and school performance.

Schools deserve that.

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