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Official calls for more diversity on state Board of Education

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Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has pledged to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state for education, could help his cause by adding more people of color and "consumers of public education" to what currently is an all-white state school board, a school district leader told The Oklahoman.

Last week, Stitt appointed Tulsa education leader Carlisha Williams Bradley to serve on the seven-member board, which governs Oklahoma's public school system. Bradley, who is black, would become the only nonwhite member if her appointment is approved by the Senate.

Millwood Public Schools Superintendent Cecilia Robinson-Woods called the appointment a "welcome breath of fresh air."

"I feel like the state school board has traditionally been comprised of people who haven’t had children in our schools for years and they remember what it was like for them," she said. "I think appointing people that are actually consumers of public education gives us the ability to actually follow through with his bold vision."

Robinson-Woods, who is black, said Bradley's appointment represents an "important start" toward diversifying what traditionally has been a "white male board."

"I would say there needs to be a continuing effort to have diversity in leadership in education," she said. "I think it’s time to have an Hispanic or an Asian face, or someone of a different culture to balance leadership at that level."

As of Thursday, the governor had not announced whether he would reappoint members Lee Baxter, Cathryn Franks, Bob Ross and Bill Price, whose terms expired April 2. Appointed members serve until a successor is appointed, according to state statute.

Donelle Harder, Stitt’s spokeswoman, said the education board "is a top priority for the governor."

"The Department of Education appointments already require regional diversity, so we have been focused on getting a mix of individuals who are parents of children in public school, educators and education policy experts," Harder said.

Stitt has also reappointed Claremore Mayor William Flanagan, a retired certified public accountant, to a four-year board term.

"The governor valued Mayor Flanagan's history as a financial adviser, accountant and well-respected community leader," Harder said. "Flanagan is known among his peers for asking the hard questions on the education budget to ensure it is supporting classroom needs. He will play a critical role in in helping deliver Top 10 outcomes in our common education system."

Flanagan said the state school board has to do a better job of helping students realize their potential.

"I think we need to figure out how to help these schools and figure out why they're not succeeding better," he said. "I think we really need to allocate more resources to the schools that are not succeeding and hold them accountable if they do not achieve the desired results."

Flanagan said he'll work with whoever is on the school board.

"I think everybody’s working with the same goals in mind, to increase the probability of success for students as we go forward to the future," he said.

State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who heads the state Education Department, rounds out the Board of Education.

"I believe Joy is extremely visionary, and diversifying her board will only strengthen her cause," Robinson-Woods said.

The Millwood district leader questioned the board's leadership.

"It almost feels as somewhat of a rubber stamp," she said. "They haven’t had the leadership to direct the state Department of Education in a way to that would allow us to achieve this Top 10 standing in education. I think they've just done what they've always done."

Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said he's excited to work with whoever the governor appoints to the state Board of Education.

"I hope the board takes a visionary role in improving the investment in Oklahoma education and helping us find ways to do everything we can to ensure that all Oklahoma students get the high-quality education opportunities they deserve," he said.

Hime called Stitt's pledge to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state in education "very lofty and visionary."

"I hope we can continue to work with his office and state board appointees to ensure that we have the resources necessary to meet those goals," he said.

Tim Willert

Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers K-12 education, including Oklahoma City Public Schools and the state Education Department. Before that he covered district, federal and appellate courts in Oklahoma County. Prior... Read more ›

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