Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

September 14, 2012

School leaders discuss challenges ahead

TAHLEQUAH — Despite the competing demands of the school board, principals, teachers, parents, students and community, the tone and direction of a school district is set by the man or woman in charge: the superintendent.

Five area superintendents are doing just that as the new academic year unfolds to ever-increasing challenges from the State Department of Education in establishing a new performance evaluation system and paramount changes in curriculum, while facing severe budget cuts. And 2012-2013 marks year one for Tahlequah Public Schools Interim Superintendent Lisa Presley, Sequoyah Schools Superintendent Leroy Qualls, Woodall Public Schools Superintendent Linda Clinkenbeard, Hulbert Public Schools Superintendent Marilyn Dewoody and Keys Public Schools Superintendent Billie Jordan.

With several irons in the fire, the superintendents try to stay connected with the people they’re serving, while meeting or surpassing expected goals. Presley said time management is a  challenge for a superintendent, but that embracing personal ability and the skills and experience of others on the job can produce results.

“It is rewarding to truly believe you can make a positive difference,” she said. “It is also rewarding to believe our district has outstanding students, a great and caring faculty and staff, and that we are part of an organization making a significant impact on the community. Become a school administrator if you love students and learning, enjoy people, like a good problem to solve, and you like to work. Become a school administrator if you want to leave a legacy of hope.”

Clinkenbeard intends to establish a tradition of academic diversity and excellence at Woodall, because she believes every student should walk away equipped with the skills to succeed in an evolving world.

“A child’s success and quality of life later depends on the education a child receives today,” Clinkenbeard said. “I sincerely believe that public education, regardless of the size and location of the school, should provide all students with the skills and confidence needed to compete in our ever-changing global society. It is my mission to ensure that Woodall students receive an excellent and well-rounded education. Working with my principal and teachers to map our course of action is very rewarding now, but watching the students continue to be successful students at area high schools and beyond will be the greatest reward.”

Dewoody views interacting with and seeing students succeed is the job’s greatest reward. Making an impact on their learning, while being received with a smile, keeps her passion alive.

“It’s still exciting to have the kids be glad to see you. I try to go to their games, and I try to make sure I’m at every sport as much as I can be. They get excited to have me there, and it makes me feel good to feel wanted. I love being with the students,” Dewoody said. “And I just think no matter what school you’re in, there are teachers who are dedicated to their students or they wouldn’t be in this job, especially here at Hulbert. We pay the minimum salary.”

From the time she was a teacher, Dewoody said, she loved teaching and the classroom.

“But I started getting into curriculum alignment as a teacher and saw I could impact the learning of more students than just mine, so made me want to branch out,” she said. “I got into administration because I found out not only could I affect those kids, I could affect a whole building of kids.”

Qualls said he wouldn’t trade his experiences as an administrator for anything. He has enjoyed helping teachers guide young people to success in the classroom or in athletic competitions, and encourages anyone who wants to make a difference to get more involved in the academic process.

“I appreciate our teachers doing an effective job of showing students how to work together for a common goal, and making a difference in the lives of our young people,” he said. “I look forward to contributing and being a part of the success of our students, faculty and our school in the year ahead. The administrator’s position is becoming more complex with each passing year. At the same time, it’s also a rewarding experience.”

Jordan agrees with Qualls that there’s no other career field as rewarding or important as education.

“Being an educator in any capacity is rewarding. I loved teaching – those moments when you know the students are connecting with what you’re saying and really learning. I loved being a principal and being able to help staff, provide them the resources they need,” she said. “As assistant superintendent [at TPS], it was rewarding to implement districtwide programs that really impacted children, to identify and overcome many barriers to learning, such as poverty and unstable home environments.”

Though she’s only been at Keys a short time, Jordan said she loves being superintendent there.

“This is my home, my community, and I want to truly make a difference,” Jordan said. “Right now, the most rewarding part of my job is hanging out in the halls when I can, and messing with the kids. Nobody should be in this business if they don’t enjoy that.”

According to the State Department of Education’s website, the Common Core State Standards have been developed through collaborative efforts shared by teachers, school administrators, curriculum experts and others to establish “a clear and consistent framework to prepare Oklahoma students for college, the workforce, and responsible citizenship.”

The rigorous standards have been designed to reflect the real world. Presley said these benchmarks “will ask more of students than ever before,” expecting them to demonstrate what they’ve learned through application. Then they must appraise situations and be able to verbalize the thought processes used to deduce the expected outcome.

“It has made the job tougher,” Presley said. “More instructional resources are required, and more time will be required to conduct evaluations. Fiscal and human resources will be taxed as teaching and learning shifts to higher rigor.”

Jordan isn’t sure if the new standards will make things tougher on students, but believes the new curriculum will bring significant changes in education, which will be for the better.

“We have to come together as teams at our schools – teachers, administrators and support staff – and collectively make decisions on how we’re going  to fully implement the Common Core Standards by next year,” she said. “I believe that when the standards are fully implemented, teachers and students will see the value  and be happy with the change. Already I hear from students and teachers that they enjoy the Common Core classroom, with teachers requiring students to from their own opinions, based on what they learn and the evidence they gather.”

Clinkenbeard and Dewoody each spent time in the Fort Gibson School District and share a similar view on the new standards. Dewoody was curriculum director at FGPS and enjoys recalibrating educational programs to provide the best learning experience. This is a source of confidence for Dewoody, who said implementing the new standards won’t faze her. She credits her mentor, Fort Gibson Superintendent Derald Glover.

“When we went to the combination meeting of the school boards association and COSA, they asked us to pick out mentor, and Ms. Clinkenbeard and I picked Derald Glover because he was our superintendent at Fort Gibson,” Clinkenbeard said. “He is a very wise superintendent. I’ve learned a lot from him. Part of that meeting we spent at a kind of round table where [we shared one another’s expertise]. We taught each other what we knew, and we continue to talk all the time about issues that come up and how we should handle them.”

Clinkenbeard shares the positive view on the Common Core Standards, and sees it as a chance to change everyone involved in the process.


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