Woodward, Okla. —
ENGAGING PARENTS AND THE COMMUNITY
However, educators can only do so much, and when it comes to learning students also need guidance from their parents.
"As a mother, I think it's important to lead by example," Hofmeister said, noting that parental involvement, or lack thereof, can play a big role in a student's education.
So being able to engage parents and have them participate in the education system will be an important piece of the puzzle in creating a cohesive educational environment for Oklahoma's youth.
Hofmeister also seeks to engage community members, which is why she asked audience members on Monday to share some of their questions and concerns.
The major issues expressed were concerns over the citizenship readiness of students after they graduate and too much focus on testing over actual learning.
Local businessman Max Benbrook expressed dismay on the number of recent graduates who come looking for work but have no real sense of work ethic.
While he agrees that this is something that should be taught at home, he understands that in many cases it isn't and feels that schools provide the "only place where that need can be filled" to help prepare students for the workforce.
"The curriculum needs to support the things that actually make our society function on a day to day basis," Benbrook said.
Barclay Holt, assistant superintendent for High Plains Technology Center, seemed to agree that there should be more focus on helping students develop useful skills.
"It's not going to be a science or math fix," Holt said, noting "the state continues to buy in that we need more science and math classes, yet they cut funding for vocational schools that actually teach students what the difference between a fourth and a half of a cup is or make them learn responsibility through caring for animals."
While educators agree that the goal of education should be to prepare students for life after school, they say the problem is that current and upcoming mandates place too much emphasis on getting high test scores.
"There's pressure to build good test takers," Woodward Superintendent Tim Merchant said, noting since tests will determine whether students move on to the next grade and graduate "it's all about making sure they do well on a test and not whether they have appropriate skills. And until that pressure is lightened or taken off, there's going to be a discount on building citizenship skills."
JoLynn Love, an English teacher at Woodward High School, and Bob Beatley, an art teacher in Mooreland Public Schools, both discussed how soon 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based strictly on how well their students perform on certain tests. That means whether or not a teacher keeps his or her job will depend highly on how well students perform on the tests.
"If you think I'm going to teach character skills, I don't have the time, not when my job depends on me teaching for a test," Love said.
She said the problem is that the accountability is placed entirely on the teacher and not on the students themselves, because there are some students who just don't want to put forth the effort.
She compared it to as if society judged dentists based on how many cavities their patients had.
"A dentist can tell her patients over and over again not to eat sweets. She can give them toothpaste and floss, but there's nothing she can do once that patient leaves her office," Love said.
This is like a teacher giving a student homework and then blaming the teacher when the student refuses to do that homework, she said.
Hofmeister didn't respond directly to all these concerns, but did thank the audience members for their comments.
"I want to hear your frustrations," she said.
Because, she said, she views the State Superintendent position as one of "public service" where she would be an "advocate" those she serves, including both students and educators.
And in order to serve them properly, she feels she must communicate with those involved to identify problems and then collaborate with them to resolve those problems.
If things are going to change for Oklahoma's education system, Hofmeister said, "we need to develop an overall culture of trust and respect so that we foster collaboration and communication."