State schooling superintendent speaks to rural, statewide points
According to a US News report, Oklahoma ranks 43rd in the nation for quality of K-12 education. While there is no doubt there are struggles for the state in terms of education and literacy, the values and skills that Oklahomans possess aren’t always easy to see from testing alone.
State Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister made the trip to Ardmore Friday to meet with area schools and community members working to address many of those issues—and to recognize the efforts of an Ardmore High School senior. Hofmeister said Emma Moore impressed her with the planning and execution of a special event at the junior livestock show where 38 special needs students were paired with 4H participants to co-show their animals. “Making sure that our students who have not had opportunities to be part of something like this show is wonderful,” Hofmeister said. “The experience will impart new and useful skills to everyone involved.”
Hofmeister said special needs students have many of the same struggles as others. “We know a lot of Oklahoma youth who raise and show animals learn leadership skills, among others,” Hofmeister said. “This show highlights the exceptional students in Oklahoma, of all abilities.”
In addition to the livestock show, Hofmeister planned to visit community members and area schools, including Sulfur and Davis. “It’s great to be on the road,” Hofmeister said. “This is how II began my first campaign. I had 2000 miles on my car and hauled all four of my kids around in public school events. Now I’ve almost reached the 500,000 mile mark.”
Among the issues Hofmeister planned to discuss are the community needs, legislative issues, and teacher issues. “We have a teacher shortage that must be addressed and we know that,” Hofmeister said. “Our kids deserve to have more resources. A lot of families have engaged in new ways over the last couple of years and that’s a great thing, but there are ongoing issues related to the pandemic and disruptions that must be answered.”
“We know that our children in Oklahoma have setbacks that are greater than those experienced by surrounding States,” Hofmeister said. “I take that seriously and address it. For example, we have more food insecurity in Oklahoma than the national average. One in five children suffers from the effects of food insecurity. Meals at the school may be their only nutritious meal.” Hofmeister said programs where backpacks with nutritious snacks are sent home for weekends and holiday breaks are helpful, but those stop-gap measures don’t address the root of the issue.
“We have more of our children experiencing adverse childhood experiences, living in chronic trauma and abuse,” Hofmeister said. “Mental health needs from support for those experiencing bullying to suicidal ideation is real. These are statistics that we have to become aware of, and to understand, in order to support our children.”
Among the threats to that support, and specifically to education in rural Oklahoma, Hofmeister said, is the voucher scheme that is being proposed by the governor at the Capitol. “I stand strongly against that,” Hofmeister said. “That’s a rural school killer.”
Building infrastructure to support digital inclusion and broadband access is also on Hofmeister’s agenda. “Broadband access should be as common as basic utilities like electricity and running water,” Hofmeister said. Thousands of hotspots were distributed across the state to support virtual education in 2020—but again, that doesn’t solve the problem. Hofmeister said broadband access goes beyond education to issues like medical and mental health care, which contributes to many other issues affecting rural Oklahomans.
Regarding legislation and government action affecting transgender youth in neighboring states, Hofmeister said those moves only serve to create chaos. “We need to be able to have opportunities for all kids to participate and compete,” Hofmeister said. “When I think about Oklahoma values, the things Oklahomans hold dear, I think about respect, common sense and working together.” Instead of divisive action, Hofmeister suggested work to ‘actually get things done.’