The Woodward News

September 10, 2013

Education, United Fund highlight chamber event

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Progress in education was the focus of the monthly Woodward Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday, Sept. 9.

To begin the meeting Tim Merchant, superintendent of Woodward Public Schools, discussed the need to continue opportunities for progress in common education through the upcoming bond election.  Then as the guest speaker Dr. Janet Cunningham, president of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, discussed the current signs of progress being seen throughout her institution.


Woodward voters will go to the polls on Oct. 8 to decide on a proposed $29 million school bond issue.

Merchant said the biggest thing people should know about the school bond proposal is that it involves "no new taxes."

Instead, the superintendent said the district wants to keep the current property tax millage structure, which has been in place since the passage of a previous bond issue in 2008.

This means that property owners won't see an increase in their yearly taxes, and yet Merchant said the school district will still "get a lot of bang for our buck."

The proposed $29 million bond "will meet all priority needs as identified by our long-range planning committee," he said.

He said those priority needs fall within 5 areas: safety, security, overcrowding, transportation, and technology.

The safety and overcrowding needs are related because in order to address issues from lack of space, Merchant said the district is proposing the construction of 5 additional classrooms at each elementary school, with 2 of those rooms also serving as safe rooms in case of storms.

There are also proposals to build on at the middle school and high school to include large safe rooms for the students at those facilities.  (The Early Childhood Center, which was built using funds from the 2008 bond, was constructed with safe rooms built in.)

As far as security, Merchant said the bond proposal includes measures to reconfigure entry ways into the schools using a double-door buzzer system and adding more security cameras.

To meet transportation needs, he said the bond includes "a 5-year plan to refresh the fleet" by purchasing a certain number of new Boomer buses, route buses and passenger vehicles each year until the whole fleet is updated.

And for technology, he said the goal is "putting an iPad in the hands of each of our students and using them for educational purposes."  Along with this he said the district's computer networks and systems will need upgrading as well.

Merchant said these priority areas need to be addressed soon because of Woodward's current growth and to look toward the future.

"As a city we have adopted the saying 'Woodward moving forward,'" Merchant said.  "In order for us to keep Woodward moving forward, we have to keep our schools moving forward."


Cunningham said the new school year is off to a good start at Northwestern, including increased enrollment.

"Last year combined from all campuses we had 2,299 students which was the 6th largest enrollment ever in Northwestern's history," she said.  "I believe we're going to top that this year."

While the current enrollment report with specific numbers won't be issued until later this week, Cunningham said "all campuses are reporting good enrollment and I believe Woodward's is up a bit from last year."

At the main campus in Alva, she said that in addition to having more students on campus for classes, they are seeing "more students choose campus living."  She said that is because Alva is experiencing some of the same housing issues as Woodward has been due to the continued high activity in the oil and gas industry.

It also is because Northwestern remains at the top for having low-cost housing.

"The US News and World Report lists Northwestern as having some of the most affordable student housing in the United States," Cunningham said.

And it's not just on campus that NWOSU is seeing higher numbers.  It's also online.

"We've seen a good increase in online programs," Cunningham said.

The university's online offerings have been expanded as well, she said, noting that Northwestern is the "first public university to offer bachelor's degrees in business, accounting, and technical management in an online format."

The school also now offers an online program that allows Licensed Practical Nurses to earn their Bachelor's of Science in Nursing in just one year, she said.

Other recent highlights for the school have included:

• "being named a military-friendly school" and currently serving 120 VA students;

• having low student debt rates with "only 36 percent of undergraduate students at Northwestern who utilize student loans" and "53 percent who graduate without any debt;"

• having Woodward-native Delta Farmer be the 4th NWOSU student named as a Brad Henry International Scholar and be selected to go study at Swansea University in Wales;

• having Woodward graduate Haylee Bates selected as a member of the 2013 Class of the President's Leadership Council;

• an 8-day performance tour of China this past Spring by the NWOSU University Singers choir; and

• completion of the first year requirements in the university's ongoing process to seek membership in NCAA Division II with the goal "to become a full active member in 2015."


Monday's meeting also served as the kick-off for the annual fundraising drive for the United Fund of Woodward.

In it's mission to help children, senior citizens and the marginalized, the United Fund provides grants to 10 local organizations including: Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma, Kid's Inc., High Plains Outreach Center, Legal Aid of Oklahoma, Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council, Panhandle Nutrition Center, Red Cross of Northwest Oklahoma, Salvation Army, and the Woodward Senior Center.

To raise money for those charitable grants, United Fund conducts an annual fundraising drive each fall during which they seek out donations from community members and local businesses and other organizations.  The United Fund group also holds several fundraising dinners and auctions to reach out to the community for more support.

On Monday, the United Fund asked Chamber members to contribute to the cause through a basket auction featuring tickets to various sporting events including NWOSU games, Thunder games, and the OU and OSU Bedlam game.  The basket auction raised a total of $2,250.  Chamber members were also asked to donate money to show their support as OSU Cowboy or OU Sooner fans, which raised another $1,280 for the United Fund.