The state of education in Rogers County? Optimistic.
Three tiers of education were represented at the State of Education forum held in Claremore this week: Claremore Public School Superintendent, Brian Frazier, Northeast Tech Superintendent, Fred Probis and Rogers State University President, Dr. Larry Rice.
“Oh, what a difference a year makes,” said Frazier, kicking off the presentation. “Last year in this very meeting, I kind of felt guilty in a way when I walked out. I feel like I painted a doom and gloom picture of public education. But to be realistic, that's exactly where we were. The good news is, that was then and this is now.”
Frazier praised the efforts of state legislators who he said listened, acted and championed the cause of public education.
As a district, he said they built on the progress made with House Bill 1010, which provided a pay increase.
“We as a district piggy-backed off of that. We were one of three in the state that not only took the funding that was given to us to raise teacher pay but we also took those private funds from the district and increased our scale an additional $1,200. What that did was take us from the bottom in Rogers County, to the top,” he said. “We know the difference in classrooms. It's teachers. Its not the principals or superintendent. It's the teachers. The magic happens with teachers in classrooms. We have to acquire great talent and retain great talent.”
Tone is created from the top down, he said, and a new governor at the helm has made all the difference.
“The governor is a business man, a leader. To be a Top10 state there will have to be a focus on education. He knows that for us to be Top 10 economically, we have to be Top10 in education. Those things go hand in hand. Not only did he say it but he has also put action behind it which has changed the dynamic and culture for teachers,” Frazier said.
Anticipating a $5,000 teacher pay raise in Texas, Gov. Stitt pushed through another $1,200 for Oklahoma teachers, according to Frazier.
“That’s huge. Whether it happens or doesn't happen the reality is this: In the past 10 years we've never experienced leadership in the state that respected and made teachers feel the way they feel now. That was huge,” he said.
“We are very optimistic…there is still much more funding that needs to be done. But it's kinda like with my weight loss, the reality is this: I didn't gain that weight overnight and I'm not going to lose it overnight. Same thing happened with funding. It happened. It's in the past and we're not going to get it back over night. We realize that and appreciate what legislators are doing.”
“It’s a great day to be a Zebra”
Frazier said good things are happening in Claremore Public Schools.
On March 5 the district saw a $41 million bond pass at 87 percent.
He added that it wouldn’t have been possible if not for public trust and support.
Last year, the district shortened the school day on Fridays. Frazier said this was part of a professional development move as professional development is often one of the first things cut in a budget crunch.
“If teachers really are the difference-makers then we need to give them time to collaborate. We need to train them appropriately and utilize that time to better serve our students. This meets our number one district goal which is to increase student learning,” he said.
Frazier said many projects are underway but the “low hanging fruit” projects will be the first completed with bond funding as others will require intensive design and planning.
“The state of education for Northeast Tech is outstanding”
Superintendent Fred Probis said things are going well in the tech system.
“Northeast Tech serves 3,500 square-miles. Annually our enrollment is nearly 30,000. And 83 percent of our budget comes from local ad valorem taxes…probably the most reliable, most steady funding stream you could ask for. We are absolutely grateful we are funded that way,” Probis said. “It's your money that makes what we do possible. We do get a little bit of state funding, we receive just enough to cover about two weeks of operations. That's it.”
He said the average high school student who attends Northeast Tech for a half-day during their junior and/or senior year does so at no cost.
But with industry trained professionals teaching the classes and state of the art training tools, that education isn’t cheap.
“The average annual cost for a student to attend a daytime class is a little less than $8,500. So a high school student that comes half day their junior and senior year, by the end of that second year the tax payers in our community have invested just at $17,000 in training that student,” he said.
Northeast Tech offers 811 different industry certifications across their four campuses.
“And we have nearly 400 community members that sit on advisory committees that guide and direct what we teach in our programs. We are training the workforce for you...We have people from these industries sit down with our teachers and give us direction on what they want their future employees to know,” he said.
Troubling but optimistic
“The state of higher education is troubling, but at least somewhat optimistic,” began Rice.
He said he’s encouraged by discussions within state legislation.
“But it’s troubling that the governor made no mention of higher education in the State of the State address,” Rice said. “I think he’s a good person, and a great leader, but it’s troubling. It will be hard to be a Top 10 state if you don’t have all of education as a focus—career tech, K12 and higher education.”
Rice boasted the lower-than average tuition rates at Rogers State and said many Hillcats are able to graduate debt-free.
“As a state, we have the fourth lowest per-student tuition rate in the nation...And here at RSU about half of our students are able to graduate debt-free,” he said.
Despite continued budget cuts, Rice said Rogers State University has been resilient and found creative ways to do more with less.
“While there are some troubling signs, we're all optimistic that this is going to be the year we get an influx, a little more funding from the state,” he said. “Rogers State is alive and well. We're survivors.”