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By Tulsa parent and entrepreneur Ashley Daly for The Black Wall Street Times. Daly urges voters to put the needs of students first on Tuesday. The Black Wall Street Times strongly urges Oklahomans to vote for Joy Hofmeister for Governor and Jena Nelson for State Superintendent.
If you don’t have a plan to vote on Tuesday, November 8, make one now. Stop what you’re doing and put it in your calendar. Set a reminder. Then, send a reminder to a friend. The political stakes in Oklahoma have never been higher.
More than ever in our history, your vote for Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction matters. In a very tight race, your vote can uplift our public schools, students, and educators. Or, it can undercut them.
Some Oklahoma politicians are using divisive rhetoric rather than working to get results for students
Most of my life, I haven’t been active in politics. My journey here began at an Oklahoma State School Board meeting in August. I attended and spoke as a concerned mom, and watched as a handful of board members ignored dozens of pleas from their constituents and fellow board members and, without so much as opening discussion, upheld severe punishments to Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools for their alleged violations of HB 1775, which effectively bans the discussion of race in the classroom.
Watching the callous and uncaring actions of these men and women, appointed by the Governor, changed something in me. And, as I have dug deeper into the debate over Oklahoma education this election cycle, a sense of dread has filled my heart. Our schools need saving, not from manufactured tales of “indoctrination and sexualization” of our children — baseless, aggressive, insulting claims used by some to sow fear and division in our communities and gain votes.
In Oklahoma, our kids regularly have the highest ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) scores in the nation. That means they suffer more than kids in any other state from childhood trauma — abuse, neglect, parents who are incarcerated, or parents who struggle with mental illness or substance abuse. Decades of studies show us that these early experiences lead to learning difficulty, chronic illness, risky behaviors, mental health problems, and significantly shorter lifespans down the road. Teachers and administrators are on the front lines, working tirelessly to tend our children’s emotional wellbeing in addition to educating them. And, I have seen first hand the toll it takes on them.
Our school staff are heroes to our kids, and they deserve to be treated as such
I regularly volunteer in the front office of my daughter’s elementary school, and what I’ve seen and heard there is astounding and bittersweet. The teachers and staff know all of the children, and the children know them.
Teachers ask the kids if they ate breakfast and shepherd them toward the cafeteria if they haven’t. They know who needs free and reduced breakfasts and lunches the most. They keep the story of each of their students in their minds on top of the countless other tasks that make up their jobs
I’ve seen our principal form our elementary school’s very first Student Council. Student Council means extra work for him and the other staff. But, I’ve also seen students learn to interact officially, respectfully, and more often than not, joyfully — a skillset that puts them ahead of many adults — and the pride on the faces of the young council members as they announced the fruits of their work: a full week of special dress days that built community and camaraderie among their classmates.
I’ve heard heartbreakingly sweet words come through the loudspeaker in the morning: “Most of all, be kind. Be a good friend.” What if we all heard this every morning? What if we had heard this every morning of our childhood?
Recently my seven year old daughter told me, “Mom, this morning I had really big feelings. I asked to go to the counselor’s office.” She sat under a weighted blanket and took a quiet moment to feel better. Life is so full of big feelings, hard feelings. Her school administration tends our whole family by teaching my daughter not to hide from her feelings, but to take a moment to let them settle.
In the midst of turmoil and mounting struggles, teachers give their all for kids.
I’ve heard our principal explain our school’s reading scores. “I’m a big believer in two things being true at once,” he says. “The scores are better than the district average, which is good. But, they are not at all where we want them to be for our kids.” I heard him explain his plan of action. I heard him invite parents, families, and the community in to help.
I’ve seen teachers and school administrators working fervently to tend our children’s basic needs, educational or otherwise. I’ve seen each staff member at our school wear at least two hats at once, if not five to 10 hats throughout any given school day. What if we treated them with the respect they deserve and gave them the resources they needed and funded schools like the essential community resource they are? What if we paid teachers and school administrators like we knew their work literally saves children’s lives?
Maybe we wouldn’t have a teacher shortage crisis. Maybe the cycles of trauma could stop. Test scores up. Crime go down. All outcomes linked with education funding.
Candidates for Governor and State Superintendent show clear contrast in their vision for our state’s future
Sadly, neither of the Republican nominees for Governor or State Superintendent of Public Instruction speak well of public schools. Instead, they emphasize extremes and insult hard-working teachers and administrators. Neither of them acknowledge the difficult realities our children or their teachers face.
One candidate is threatening to take away federal funding — our own tax dollars that we have already paid — without a plan to replace the programs it supports. Instead of ensuring Oklahoma children have the free and reduced lunches, English as Second Language classes, teacher’s aides, special education programs, reading mentors, and other programs they depend on, these candidate’s sew verbal chaos and threaten to give our tax dollars away to other states.
Joy Hofmeister and Jena Nelson, on the other hand, speak endlessly about the needs of our students. They believe in our teachers and our schools, and offer studied, practical and compassionate solutions to the problems they face.
A fellow mom, whose child is a fifth grade student council member, told me her daughter got a new journal with these words on it, “It doesn’t have to happen to you, to matter to you.” Her daughter said, “I’m not sure what it means exactly, but I like it.” She likes it because it is true.
Whether you have a child in school or know a teacher or have any connection to public education, you must vote Tuesday, November 8. This race is very, very close. Look up your polling place. Make a plan.
Few of the more than 700,000 children that depend on Oklahoma’s public schools are old enough to vote. They need you to do it for them.
Readers can learn more about their ballot, find their polling location and make a plan to vote at www.iwillvote.com.