The Woodward News

January 19, 2013

Documentary highlights rural schools

Chris Cooper
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — NORMAN--The Professional Oklahoma Educators Foundation has recently filmed and produced a documentary pertaining to rural schools and school consolidation which will be premiering on Monday in Norman.

According to a press release from the organization, the issue of school consolidation has become an ongoing conversation that appears every year during the legislative session.

"We're tired of it coming up every session and everyone tippy toeing around the issue. We never get to hear the reasoning behind both sides so we just want to get it out there. We just really want to go deep into these issues, present both sides, and hear the reasoning behind each," said Ginger Tinney, executive director of the Professional Oklahoma Educators Foundation.

In an effort to put this debate to rest, the educators foundation has created the film "We Are Rural," which focuses on the story of 7 Oklahoma schools in their efforts to stay autonomous.

"The film presents both sides of the consolidation argument and the reasoning behind both sides," TInney said.  "Basically we went to 7 different rural schools, Fairview, Flower Mound, Minco, Lane, Peggs, North Rock Creek, and Thomas-Fay-Custer, and interviewed educators, community members, and students to get their take on how consolidation would effect them and their community."

Tinney said the consolidation issue involves 2 types of consolidation: the consolidation of small schools in which schools with small student populations would be combined, and the consolidation of school districts, in which a single administrator would be in charge of a larger area rather than multiple administrators.

In addition to exploring both sides of the debate, Tinney said the film aims to help legislators gain a better understanding of rural schools.

"A lot of people who actually write the laws haven't been out in rural Oklahoma, so they don't understand the effects consolidation might have on the community," she said. "We want to put a face on rural education in the state so when legislation is written, they can see who they're really effecting."

Following the film, Tinney said the meeting will be opened up for discussion and the audience will be allowed to ask questions of a panel comprised of community members and legislators.

The panel is expected to include State Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs; State Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne; State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City; and Dr. John Cox, president of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools and Superintendent of Peggs Elementary School; as well as a few other authorities.

Tinney explained that the ultimate goal of the film and prompting the discussion was to benefit the students of Oklahoma.

"What we're ultimately looking at is what's the best way to educate children, and we look to define what that is," she said. "The Professional Oklahoma Educators Foundation has teachers across Oklahoma that give us input and from what we've gathered, my opinion is one size does not fit all, some students do well in small districts, others in large districts."

The premier of "We Are Rural" will be held at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan 21.  The museum is located in Norman at 2401 Chautauqua Ave. The event is free and those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP by calling (888) 331-2763 as seating is limited.

"I think if they're interested in rural education, people need to come out and make their voices heard. I think it will be really interesting, no matter what side you're on, the film will give you pause to think," Tinney said.