Together We Rise – Happenings in Okmulgee Public Schools
By Betty Anderson
Change is good and change is what’s happening in Okmulgee Public Schools. Deputy Superintendent Renee Dove was on hand along with the Okmulgee School Board and others to report to the community that exciting and challenging times are coming to the Okmulgee School District.
Dove opened her talk saying, “The goal tonight is to give you information about the future and where we’re headed in our District with our students, with our teachers and the plan to redesign our time, our talent and our resources in Okmulgee Public Schools.”
Budget Cuts: Dove informed the audience of the budget cuts to Okmulgee Public Schools which will result in a 1.5 million dollar cut to Okmulgee Schools.
“While we hope for the best we’re preparing for the worst,” said Dove. “We plan to make cuts in areas where children will be affected the very least.”
A Power Point presentation was presented on screen regarding the budget showing the estimated carryover will be decreased by a million dollars if no changes are made. (View HERE)
Dove said, “And that will be tragic if we allow that to happen. We are working together to make sure we have a larger carryover.”
Time, Talent and Resources: Dove said that restructuring of time talent and resources will address part of the issues but will not be enough.
She explained, “Programs will have to step up fundraising…..it may be the only feasible way to continue enjoying the programs that we have in place right now; we do not want to lose not one of them.” Dove hopes these will be short term efforts.
All Cuts Will Hurt Our Children:
Dove asked, “What can the school leadership do? Well the number one thing we are going to do is pray for wisdom.”
The school has already began cuts with energy savings. Dove reported that 80% of the budget is salary, so all that is left to cut are positions, services and programs.
“We want to preserve them and do the best we can. The bottom line is all cuts will hurt our children,” Dove said.
A top concern is classroom size moving from 25 to 35-40 in a classroom. Dove said they will have to do fundraising to support the programs including travel expenses to games and it will have to be done through the booster clubs.
Dove asked the following questions and gave her responses to the questions.
What can the Legislature do? Stop the current income tax cut. Stop the income tax cut planned for 2018. Reduce tax credits and incentives and if none of the above can be done, then, approve the 1 cent sales tax increase.
What can you do? Contact your legislator and ask them to make funding education a priority in actions, not just words. Ask them to stop the income tax cuts until there are revenues to replace them. Ask them to cut tax credits instead of education. Tell them you will support the 1 cent sales tax if they do not do the above things and vote for legislators that will do these things listed above.
Dove passionately expressed, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are not a failing school. We are doing a very good job in Okmulgee of educating kids. It hurts me for people to say, ‘We’re not sending our children to your school. We’ve been told Okmulgee is not the school we need to send our children to.’” She responded to the parents who requested a transfer, “That perception has to change. And the only way for it to change it is for you to help me….I’m not going to grant a transfer for you, I want you to try it. Then I want you to come back and talk to me in a month and I want you then to tell me if you want to leave this district.” She concluded that they tried it and that from 20 people who requested transfers, 19 did not transfer.
She discussed the process of hiring a head football coach and informed that they have had 50 applications. She asked one applicant from Washington State, “Why do you want to come to Okmulgee Oklahoma?” The applicant replied, “I’ve been reading all about it, I’ve been reading about what’s going on in your community; Okmulgee Rising and Bulldog Rising and just read enough that I want to be a part of that, I want to be in your community.” She said that another applicant from the East Coast who went to Okmulgee Schools said, “Those were some of the best years of my life and that I have never forgotten growing up in Okmulgee and the people who helped me.” The School District is still in the process of deciding who the head football coach will be and we will be announcing that soon.
Redesigning our Time: A new 2016-2017 calendar was approved and distributed. The new calendar shows:
- School will start August 8.
- Semester will end before Christmas break.
- Calendar has snow days on Friday beginning the Friday after Spring break.
- They will continue with five day weeks.
- Breakfast will be a little later. By adjusting these times slightly our students will become more productive in our classrooms on a daily basis.
Our Talent: Dove explained that, “In the coming months we are going to be looking at the reorganization our administrators, our teachers, our counselors and our support staff to better serve the needs of our students.” The people who are going to be reassigned will largely be due to their talents and where they may serve. She added, “We are going to redesign and move people where their strength is and where they haven’t ever seen themselves before.”
Restructuring Our Facilities: Dove gave the following information about moving the schools:
- The Primary School will remain where they are and will operate as they have in the past.
- “3rd – 6th grade students will be housed at the current Middle School and it will be called Okmulgee Elementary.
- 7th-8th Grade students will be housed at what was the Freshmen Academy and it will be called Okmulgee Junior High. Dove said, “Although they will be at the high school campus, they are going to have their own building, their own administration, their own teachers focused on their particular needs. These students will also have their own designated lunch period. So even though they are on the High School campus I want to be very clear about the fact that they are on a separate site, the Junior High site. We have removed the 6th graders from that.” The 7th and 8th graders will be given the opportunity to utilize the new state of the art Band Building, projected to begin building in March and to be completed next year.
A learning focus culture understands that the school was not built so that teachers have a place to teach, it was built so the children of the community have a place to learn.
When are we going to make this big move? Dove talked with the teachers about moving the Schools. They told her that they will come back after school is out and do it. She explained to them there was no money to pay them with the budget cuts and they responded, “When those students go home we’ll show back up and we’ll get this job done, you don’t you worry about it Ms. Dove, we’ve got this taken care of.”
Dove expressed to the audience “That’s the kind of teachers, ladies and gentlemen, we have in this District.” A round of applause was delivered and she put out an appeal to the community to help move the schools and said, “So I ask you, when we publish in the newspaper and we say, bring your mops, bring your bleach, come and help us clean a building, I’m going to ask you to please show up; I’ll be there, my sleeves will be rolled up because I can work hard just like anyone else. And we’ll be there and together we’ll get those buildings moved and we’ll get school ready to begin in August. And so we’re going to need your help. It is a job moving 7th and 8th graders across town. We’re not going to be able to do this without the help of this community. Okmulgee Rising, Bulldog Rising, we go hand in hand; we cannot separate. We will be calling on many of you to help us and I know you are going to be there…..I’m going to depend on you to show up when I post the date. Please show up to help us, we cannot do this by ourselves, but we will have a lot of fun.”
Continuing the story of the Elementary Building: Dove said, “We are going to use that elementary building and it is not going to become a building that is just full of beautiful stories. We’re going to continue the story of the work that goes on in that building. Dove introduced Larry Killebrew, Vo-Tech Superintendent and Dr. Bill Path, President of OSUIT who she is partnering with us on the STEM program. We are going to do some things with STEM in that building. Along with Gear-Up, we’re hoping to provide two STEM camps this summer (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics). To help our students to start thinking like engineers, to begin to think like scientists and like technologists that are going to be leading our nation in the very near future. So the possibilities of this type of facility are endless when it comes to preparing our students and preparing our communities to become college and career ready. We are in the early stages of this process and it is going to take us a while. As Superintendent of Okmulgee Public Schools, I promise to keep you up to date on the progress we are making on the STEM area. We are going to make this thing happen.”
Come back to Okmulgee: Dove informed, “The next step of this process is going to begin on February 15, 2016. That is set aside as a professional development day for our District. Dr. Bob Klabenes is here tonight, along with Stephanie Cameron, Director of Dream It Do It. In May we are going to have Career Manufacturing Day we are going to tour the manufacturing businesses in our community, introduce our students to that. I want the students to go to college and then come back to Okmulgee to work. There was a round of applause as Dove closed with a passionate statement, “We are in the midst of trying circumstances; trust me when I say we are going to overcome these circumstances and rise to the challenge; we are Bulldogs and we are Rising!” Dove introduced Dr. Bob Klabenes by saying, “What is good for the community is good for the school and what is good for the school is good for the community.”
The meeting closed with Rene Dove saying, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you have shown up to say we care, you care about Okmulgee; you care about the school. And there is more to come and as we move forward I will make sure you will be informed every step of the way.”
Photos by Betty Anderson - ONN