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Senate District 22 candidates respond to education-related questions in Gazette forum

The Piedmont-Surrey Gazette asked this multipart question to the two Senate District 22 candidates:

Question: (Part 1 of 3) The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently upheld the decision to repeal the Common Core in Oklahoma Schools. What are your thoughts on the Common Core? Do you feel like it is good or bad for Oklahoma schools and why?
(Part 2 of 3) In further regard to education, Oklahoma ranks at the very bottom of state education in the country (48th or 49th out of 50). If elected, what steps would you take to make Oklahoma schools in your district(i.e. Edmond, Piedmont, Deer Creek) better? Are there specific measures you are already considering?
(Part 3 of 3) If elected, what steps would you take to insure that funding dispersed to Oklahoma schools through bond issues, grants and donations make it to the classroom to be used for education purposes only?

Stephanie Bice:

Stephanie Bice

Part 1: I oppose federally created standards like Common Core. We must improve our education outcomes in Oklahoma, but the standards created must be done at the local level with the guidance of teachers, parents and local school districts. I will fight to give Oklahoma teachers and parents the flexibility they need to help our children reach their full potential.

Part 2: Continuing to throw money into our education system will not fix the root causes of poor performance. I come from a business background where innovation is encouraged and rewarded. I’d like to find ways to take that model into the classroom and reward teachers and schools for excelling.

Part 3: Bond issues are typically used for physical building improvements or additions, and in several areas of District 22 they have been used to build new schools to accommodate the growing student population within our community. They are necessary to ease the burden of classroom size, as some classes have more than 25 students per teacher, making high-quality instruction a challenge.
I’m discouraged, however, that donations are even part of the equation. We must adequately fund our schools in order to ensure the types of quality education outcomes our children deserve.

Mark Thomas:

Mark Thomas

I am a product of the public school system, and two of my daughters still attend Yukon Public Schools, so these chosen topics are still very close to me as I am sure they are to us all. Quality education is one of the foundational cornerstones of a free and prosperous society, and paramount for continued freedom and prosperity.

The three questions asked in regard to education are in reference to my position on Common Core, making the schools better in Oklahoma, and insuring that monies find their way to the classroom. I don’t view these as individual issues, but rather three individual symptoms of one issue, central government control.

The Constitution of the State of Oklahoma provides for education, which is not the same thing as providing education. The provision of resources to support or facilitate a process is not the same as controlling the process. So how is the control of the process working out for us? I suggest not very well.

The short answer to the resolve of these issues is to dismantle the central control of our education system.

History has taught us that central control with concentrated power and money will always create bureaucracies that become inefficient, ineffective and corrupt. These are the very issues that are addressed here.

Common Core is in no way good for our children. Education is a personal issue, not a state mandate. To allow legislation to be written that mandates how our children are taught, or what they are taught, turns our children into property of the state. Our children are not property of the state.

There are no functions that take place within the state educational bureaucracies that can’t be carried out within the individual school districts. Once we remand the education of our children to the local school districts, school boards and parents, we will once again have a much improved chance of providing the quality of education we desire for our children. The local choices will once again open the door for free market models of competition that will result in better education for our children.
Government that is closest to the people is always better. Limited government is where it’s at. As Dr. Phil may ask “how’s the other working for you?”

I will work to remand the control of the education of our children to the parents.

Pierce assumes post as Surrey Hills Elementary principal

Bill Pierce

By Matt Montgomery

Next month, students from Surrey Hills Elementary will see a new faculty member walking the halls. Bill Pierce will assume his duties as the new Surrey Hills Elementary principal, taking over for Maggie Sander, who retired in May.

Pierce, a Yukon resident since 1997, is familiar with this community. In fact, he has several family members who are working or have worked for Yukon Public Schools. His wife is an educator at Yukon Public Schools. His mother-in-law recently retired from teaching at Yukon High School and his children attend Yukon Public Schools.

“For me, living in the community, believing in a school system that, in my opinion, is an exceptional school system and community, the decision to pursue that opening was very clear to me,” Pierce said. “That is something that I thought I should do and wanted to do.”

Pierce said because of the diligent work Sander and the teachers at Surrey Hills Elementary did prior to him taking the job, has created a platform that he would like to build upon.

He added that all of the great work that administration has accomplished has created a foundation that has already been laid. He wants to add to that now.

“My first priority is to get to know the students and the families, and to develop those relationships,” he said. “Then we can focus on academic excellence for our children and our community.”
One thing that means the most to Pierce, is the opportunity to make every student successful.
“It’s our responsibility to help students be successful,” he said. “I’m a service-before-self type leader. I strive to do and be excellent in everything I do. I want those that I serve to be the best that they can be.”

Pierce has a long career in the education system in Oklahoma.

Before taking the position at Surrey, Pierce was the principal at Windsor Hills Elementary in Oklahoma City from 2012 to 2014.

Some of the things he accomplished at Windsor Hills included revamping the safety procedures which resulted in a safer arrival and dismissal process.

He also served on the district technology bond team, which resulted in a $6 Million technology bond.
From 2009 to 2012 he was the principal at D.D. Kirkland Elementary in the Putnam City School District.
At D.D. Kirkland, Pierce was instrumental in revamping that school’s safety procedures, which resulted in a safer arrival and dismissal process for the students.

From 2008-09, Pierce was assistant principal at Wiley Post Elementary in the Putnam City School District.

From 2007-08 he was an assistant principal intern at Western Oaks Elementary in the Putnam City School District.

From 2005-07, he was a substitute site administrative intern at Putnam City High School.
He has his Master’s in Business Administration from Oklahoma City University with a teaching certificate.

Surrey Hills Elementary will host a back to school night Aug. 11. The first day of school is Aug. 14. The 2014-15 Surrey Hills school supply list can be seen here:


Piedmont High School teacher named finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

Cyndi Brown

By Matt Montgomery

Piedmont High School Advanced Placement (AP) English language and literature teacher Cyndi Brown was one of 12 teachers statewide who were named finalists for the state’s top teaching honor: Teacher of the Year.

Brown has been recognized for being a top teacher before. This past year, Piedmont Schools Superintendent James White, PhD, named Brown the Piedmont High School Site Teacher of the Year.

“We are extremely proud of Cyndi Brown,” White said. “Being named a finalist for the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year is a tremendous honor and accomplishment. We are very fortunate to have a teacher of her caliber and she is a terrific representative of Piedmont Schools.”

Brown said what makes her an effective teacher is making the things she teaches relevant to what is going on in the real world.

“To teach them how to engage in intelligent, informed discussion and debate about events in the world about classic and contemporary issues is important,” she said. “I had a great opportunity to do that with my wonderful AP students. They are so smart and insightful. I’ve learned just as much from them as they did from me.”

Brown said she thinks it’s important to teach her students to listen to each other and listen to other people’s perspectives and to view things from multiple viewpoints so they can see there are so many valid ways to look at things.

“I want them to be great students and have great success in college, but I also want them to be successful people,” Brown said.

Her classroom can be described as a discussion-oriented, respectful environment where students have the freedom to express themselves in an energetic and high-level way of thinking. Brown said the goal in her classroom isn’t necessarily to learn and regurgitate copy from the textbook, but rather to let the students debate among themselves in an intellectual way.

“One of the things we do in AP English is to take issues and break them apart,” she said. “I want them to develop their own viewpoints and listen to other people, too, and not just put other people down by trying to ramrod their opinions down other people’s throats.”

She changes her curriculum yearly by integrating current events into each year’s course.

“When they take that test in May, it’s going to deal with very current issues,” she said. “It asks them to weigh in on things that are very current. So, we read the paper, pay attention to politics, and that’s what keeps it exciting for me. It’s a very relevant class and I think the students appreciate that.”

Brown keeps in touch with her students after they graduate Piedmont High School.

“I would rather have a student say that mine was their favorite class,” she said. “Rather than just I’m their favorite teacher. I try to teach them what they need to know. I love to hear back from my students and knowing that they are doing well.”

The other 11 finalists are Tonya Boyle of H. Cecil Rhoades Elementary School; Roger Clement of Noble High School; Amber Elder of James L. Dennis Elementary School; Adam Forester of Bethany High School; Monica Hodgden of Woodward Early Childhood Center; James LeGrand of Altus High School; Jennifer Luttmer of Liberty Elementary School; Romney Nesbitt of Jenks West Intermediate School; Jason Proctor of Tahlequah High School; Diane Walker of Muskogee High School and LeaAnn J. Wyrick of McCall Middle School.

The teacher of the year will be chosen and announced sometime in September of this year. No date has been confirmed.

Piedmont band director resigns, takes job with Yukon

Matt Montgomery/Gazette
Piedmont Chamber of Commerce President Marian LeCrone awards Darnell Zook the Pride of Piedmont Excellence Ward during the 2013 Piedmont Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet at the First Baptist Church of Piedmont.

By Matt Montgomery

Piedmont Band Director Darnell Zook announced May 30 he accepted a position with Yukon Public Schools as the head director of bands and coordinator of instrumental music, and will no longer be with Piedmont.

Zook led the Piedmont Wildcats to multiple Class 5A band titles during his 11 years with the district.

He said there was nothing about the Piedmont community that made him want to leave, rather it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“There is nothing about the students, parents, administrators, schools or community of Piedmont that makes me want to leave,” Zook said in a facebook post. “What I was presented with was an opportunity to be able to do what I was currently doing in Piedmont on a much larger scale. I looked for, and honestly kind of hoped for, something about the position in Yukon that would justify me not continuing to look into it. What I found was a situation that I could not justify saying no to.”

Zook said he will miss the students from Piedmont the most and hopefully they learned from some of what he taught them.

“To my current students, I’m sorry,” Zook wrote. “I hate the thought that this will cause many of you pain. Realize that our relationship is not ending, it’s just changing. Realize also that the Piedmont band program is not ending, it’s just changing in some ways as well. The good news is that every amazing performance, every state championship, and every musical moment that you have experienced has one thing in common: It was performed by YOU, not by me.” Read more →

Sander retires from Surrey Hills Elementary

Matt Montgomery/Gazette
Surrey Hills Elementary Principal Maggie Sander joined Mrs. Stults’ class last Thursday during recess.

By Matt Montgomery

After 30 years in the education field in Oklahoma, Surrey Hills Elementary Principal Maggie Sander is hanging up her educator’s cap and retiring from her duties as principal.

Sander is from Woodward and plans to stay here in this area so she can go to Seiling once and a while to help her father who lives there.

“My dad is getting older and I want to be able to spend some time with him,” Sander said. “I can help him and take him to the doctor or whatever needs to be done.”

Sander is also looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren who live close by her.

She finished out her long teaching career as principal at Surrey Hills Elementary for three years.

She said she enjoyed her time in Surrey Hills and said references to Surrey Hills Elementary as being Yukon’s step child are not true, in fact she said she considers Surrey Hills’ location as an enhancement to the school and community. Read more →

Piedmont third graders pass reading sufficiency exam

James White
Piedmont Superintendent

By Matt Montgomery

Piedmont third graders passed their third grade reading exams with a 75.9 percent passing grade.

Out of the 245 students from Piedmont who took the exam, 24 scored unsatisfactory. That’s 9.8 percent of Piedmont third grade students who were unsatisfactory.

Those students who scored advanced were 186 out of 245. Twenty-three students had a limited knowledge on the exam, which is 9.4 percent. (Results were provided by the state superintendent’s office).

Piedmont Superintendent James White said Piedmont intends to apply Good Cause Exemptions for the students who did not pass the exam.

“In April, third grade students in Piedmont took the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test, which is the state assessment in reading and mathematics. Last Friday, schools received preliminary score reports for third grade reading. Over 80 percent of Piedmont third grade students scored Proficient or Advanced in reading,” White said. “Of the students who did not pass the assessment, 9.7 percent scored Unsatisfactory. Our principals and teachers are currently working to apply the six Good Cause Exemptions for those students, including examination of student data in portfolios and alternate testing, to determine readiness for fourth grade.” Read more →

Piedmont High School student named U.S. Presidential Scholar candidate, academic All-State

Matt Montgomery/Gazette
Piedmont High School senior Gabbi Allen was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar candidate and Oklahoma Academic All-State.

By Matt Montgomery


Piedmont High School senior Gabrielle “Gabbi” Allen was recently named a candidate for the U.S. Presidential Scholars program as well as Oklahoma Academic All-State. She is representing Piedmont in both programs.

Allen is one of more than 3,000 candidates nationwide in the Presidential Scholars program.

The candidates were selected from nearly 3.4 million students expected to graduate from U.S. high schools in 2014.

“I’ve always been good at this academic stuff,” Allen said. “But it’s not the easiest thing. This stuff is based more off of your ACT score.”

Allen scored a 35 on her ACT out of a possible 36.

She is actively involved in Piedmont High School’s Color Guard as the Color Guard captain and weapon line member. She has been in Color Guard for five years.

Allen has also been in the Piedmont varsity Winter Guard for four years and was in Piedmont Middle School Winter Guard for one year.

She is also a National Honor Society member and a French Club member.

Some of Allen’s academic achievements while at Piedmont High School include being the student with the highest grade in English 1 in May 2013, highest grade in French 1 in May 2011, Most Outstanding Member of the Piedmont varsity Winter Guard, top 10 percentile of the Oklahoma Honors Society, student with the highest grade in History 1 in May 2013, and second highest grade in both Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Psychology.

Allen said she has applied to several colleges across the country and is awaiting results from those schools. She said she really enjoys learning about math and has aspirations of being a mathematician or a math professor someday.

She has applied to the University of Tulsa, Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., University of Chicago or Columbia in New York, N.Y. She applied to these schools because she said they were the best fit for her.

“I want to be the best,” she said. “I went and toured Chicago and Washington this summer and they were beautiful and everyone there is smart and hard working and those are the people I want to be surrounded with.”

Allen said she really enjoys reading novels when she isn’t doing school work. She enjoys reading John Green and is reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower right now.

The Commission on Presidential Scholars, a group of up to 32 eminent citizens appointed by the President, will make final selection of the scholars. They will select one young man and one young woman from each state, They will announce the scholars in May. Scholars will be invited to Washington,, D.C. for several days in June to receive the Presidential Scholars Medallion at a recognition ceremony where they will get to meet President Barack Obama.

Each year, up to 141 students are named U.S. Presidential Scholars, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.

Test scores in each of the states are reviewed, and a total SAT score is compared to the ACT Sum of Scores.

In each state, scores are ranked from high to low. Approximately 20 females and 20 males are selected as candidates from each state. Application is by invitation only; students do not apply individually to the program, nor do schools nominate them.

School enrollment numbers showing big increase

By Matt Montgomery

The number of students enrolled in Oklahoma public schools has increased for the 2013-14 school year. The total enrollment of students attending public schools in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 is 681,578. That is an increase of 8,388 students from 673,190 in 2012-13 enrollment and 27,036 more than in 2009, five years ago.

“Because of this sharp growth in enrollment over the past five years,” said state Superintendent Janet Barresi, “I have asked for additional funding for schools from the state Legislature. I’m pleased that even in a tight revenue year, Gov. Fallin has proposed a significant increase for K-12 education.

“Additional funding certainly isn’t the sole answer, but we are working to ensure that common education receives as much funding as possible given fiscal realities. I also continue to ask local school boards and administrators to do their best to get dollars to the classroom so our teachers are better equipped to teach this growing number of students.”

Piedmont Schools Superintendent James White acknowledged that Piedmont Schools’ enrollment numbers have increased as well.

Over the past year, our enrollment has grown by almost 200 students,” White said. “This growth has been a trend in our district for the last several years, and it is a pattern that we anticipate continuing in the future.”

With Piedmont’s population at about 6,800, nearly have of the population of Piedmont is comprised of students. The difference of students enrolled is 3,280 in 2013 and 3,093 in 2012. ”Our school district provides a well-rounded and quality education to each student,” White said. “And this effort is reflected in the increased enrollment.

Annual enrollment numbers come from the Oct. 1 enrollment count taken annually by every public school district and charter school site in the state as received by the State Department of Education’s accreditation office. Results are then certified.

Oklahoma’s student population is 52 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, 15 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native, 9 percent black, 7 percent “two or more races” and 2 percent Asian, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, according to the 2013-14 data.

The three largest school districts in the state remain Oklahoma City Public Schools with 45,717 students, Tulsa with 41,115 and Edmond with 23,020. Moore, Putnam City, Broken Arrow, Norman, Union, Lawton and Midwest City-Del City round out the top 10.

All 10 districts made up the same list last year, although some have changed ranking.

Piedmont Schools Superintendent James White

Piedmont’s enrollment numbers for 2013-14 by school are as follows: Piedmont Elementary-428; Piedmont Primary-233; Stone Ridge-393; Northwood-451; Piedmont Intermediate-486; Piedmont Middle School-510; Piedmont High School-773.

Piedmont set to host parent/teacher night

By James White, Ph.D.
Piedmont Schools Superintendent

In order to prepare our young learners for success, our elementary schools certainly understand the importance of early literacy skills. Three times per year, we assess our children in Kindergarten, first, second, and third grade using the Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). This evaluation tool provides valuable data to your child’s teacher, which allows for modifications to instruction in order to meet specific individual needs.

In Oklahoma, state law requires every third grade student to be assessed using the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT). Beginning this year, students scoring Unsatisfactory on the reading portion of this assessment may be retained in the third grade. The decision to retain a student based on this reading score is not made by our school district, but instead it is a requirement of the newly enacted portion of the Reading Sufficiency Act.

The goal of Piedmont Schools is for each individual child to reach his or her reading potential.
In order to achieve this goal, additional assistance may be necessary. If your third grader is struggling, you should have received notification from your child’s principal and classroom teacher.

In order to provide additional details about the Reading Sufficiency Act, possible exemptions, and implications for our students, we are hosting a parent night on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria at Piedmont Intermediate School.

Piedmont Schools Superintendent James White

If you have any questions or concerns, we would encourage you to attend this informational meeting.
As always, Piedmont Schools is committed to helping every student have a successful experience. If you have any questions about the third-grade reading law or anything else about your child’s education, please do not hesitate to contact us.

High school construction moves forward

By James White
Piedmont Schools Superintendent

Although this winter’s inclement weather has caused some delays, construction at Piedmont High School is going strong. Even with the delays, it is still our goal to have the project completed during the summer months.

This much-needed construction will meet a number of pressing needs as our enrollment continues to increase at a rapid pace. First, this project includes an expansion of the current cafeteria space. With an expected enrollment of almost 900 students in the high school next year, this added space will be extremely beneficial.

A secured entrance and attendance office is also being constructed at the front of the building. This will allow for all other outside doors to be locked once the school day begins. All visitors will then be checked in before being allowed to enter the building, which greatly enhance school security.
Two additional classrooms and restrooms are being constructed on the southwest corner of the building. This part of the project obviously will add needed classroom space, but it will also assist in alleviating hallway overcrowding.

The final and largest piece of the construction project includes a physical education gymnasium, wrestling room, restrooms, locker rooms, and training room. Currently, PE/Wellness classes cannot be held.

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