Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive February 2015 Show 1505 Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1505

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1505

This week on Oklahoma Horizon, we examine some of the unique challenges the state’s largest school district faces.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1505

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1505

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Oklahoma City Public Schools

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Tri County Technology Center

Show Details

Show 1505: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: February 1, 2015



Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” Well, many of the educational challenges Oklahoma faces are only intensified in the state’s largest school district. Today, we will begin with a look at Oklahoma City Public Schools and visit with their new superintendent, Rob Neu.

Rob Neu: We start by making our students partners in their education. For too long, forever, we’ve worked on kids or for them – we have to work with ’em. We have to give students voice. We have to know who they are. We have to know their name. That’s important to ’em.

Rob: In our Oklahoma Standard, we show you how one Oklahoman, despite personal tragedy, gives a gift from a love everlasting.

Honestly, it’s a blessing. Because not every day does someone just get something like this.

Rob: Some Oklahoma County residents are improving their health with a little help from their friends.

When you’re with a group of people that all have the same goal that you do, and you can talk with each other, you can swap ideas – that is the secret.

Rob: And we end our day with an Oklahoman who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty to improve his family’s future.

I always thought that I couldn’t do it. And then once I finally decided to apply myself it was easier than I thought, so I thought I would try it out and they had an auto service program, so.

Rob: Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Male Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Female Announcer: Oklahoma’s investment in CareerTech provides more than nationally recognized technology education and training. It produces solid financial returns for the state’s economic future. Oklahoma CareerTech, elevating our economy.

Male Announcer: And the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, helping good people grow good things. And now, from the CareerTech studios in Stillwater, here’s your host, Rob McClendon.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, with 95 schools and over 45,000 students, Oklahoma City Public Schools is the largest school district in the state and arguably the district facing the most challenges. Student performance as described by the district’s own superintendent is bleak, a system many believe is in need of change. We’ll visit with OKC Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu in just a bit, but first a little background.

Rob: In many ways Oklahoma City Public Schools is a district of contrast – pockets of success and areas of failure.

Rob Neu: I welcome accountability.

Rob: In November, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu began what he calls the “Great Conversation,” – a six-month period of meeting with any and everyone interested in student outcomes, answering questions at forums like this one sponsored by Oklahoma Watch, while also seeking new answers to some age-old problems.

Rob Neu: And so the two things that I see right now is first of all we have to change the culture in the school district, we don’t have high enough expectations.

Rob: Superintendent Neu blames misaligned curriculum for the lack of rigor that’s led to some of the lowest educational outcomes in the state. Sixty percent of district schools received grades of D or F in report cards issued by the State Department of Ed, failing marks that Neu may disagree with --

Neu: It’s a flawed system, and I think that we’re putting too much emphasis on it.

Rob: -- yet recognizes, that while problematic in its calculation, Oklahoma’s A to F system does point to some of the same significant challenges that he has found: high poverty rates, low graduation rates and a disconnect between the community and the schools they serve.

Neu: We have to wrap the community around the kids; the schools cannot do this alone. We know this. And so this is a community effort, and we all have to have ownership in our students’ success.

Rob McClendon: And with close to half of Oklahoma City third graders reading below grade level, Oklahoma City Public Schools face a dilemma not uncommon in other urban districts, students that English is not their first language. Joining me now is our Alisa Hines.

Alisa Hines: Well, of the students currently enrolled in Oklahoma City Public Schools, 50 percent are Hispanic and about 33 percent of those still learning English. And when you have that many students who don’t speak English as their first language, it’s doubly hard to pass the new third-grade reading test. And that’s why Oklahoma City Public Schools is bridging the communication gap between the two languages.

Alisa: They’re sounding out words at Van Buren Elementary – learning their letters and a new language. Amparo Macias is the principal and says it’s easier to learn to read in your native language.

Amparo Macias: The reason why we began this year with a duo-language is to help those students that English is their second language. And as it is, as a district we struggle with reading scores, reading for all the students. And so the students that English is their second language, we thought it would facilitate their process of learning the alphabet and learning to read by starting their reading and the alphabet in their own language and then translating that later in the grade levels to English.

Alisa: From pre-K to third grade.

Macias: So we’re implementing these, one grade level at a time. So we started with pre-K this year, and we have one out of our four classrooms that are doing duo-language. Next year, we’ll move that on to kindergarten, and that’s our plan to do one grade level at a time.

Alisa: So by the time they reach third grade, the students will be bilingual and able to understand and pass their third-grade reading test. But finding teachers to teach a duo-language class isn’t easy. And OKC Public Schools has to go outside the U.S. to Spain just to find one. Instructor Juan Luis Roman says they currently teach 70 percent Spanish and 30 percent English.

Juan Luis Roman: We teach in both languages – English and Spanish. We have the language of the day – one day we teach in English, and the other day we do it in Spanish. And later we have the language of instruction, so some of the subjects are in Spanish and some of them are in English. For example, the students, they are going to learn reading in Spanish but in math they are going to learn in English.

Alisa: Which for my adult brain is hard to fathom, but Roman says for the students not so much.

Roman: They are learning faster.

Alisa: Spongy brains learning a new language and reading their way up to making the grade.

Alisa: Now, Amparo says there are so many students who want into the class that they don’t have enough teachers to go around.

Rob: So how are they going to solve that?

Alisa: Well, what they’ve done is they’ve put a kind of a lottery into place to select the students from the class. But again, having enough bilingual teachers is the key.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much, Alisa.

Alisa: You’re welcome, Rob.

Rob: Now, a little later in our show we have the heartwarming story of how one Oklahoman has turned tragedy into a gift of love; but when we return, my conversation with OKC Superintendent Rob Neu.

Male Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon,” featuring some of the good things that are happening in the great state of Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: Well, since his arrival, new Oklahoma City Public School Superintendent Rob Neu says he’s listened. And what he’s learned are the challenges facing the district are what he calls deep-rooted and can’t be fixed overnight. I was able to visit with him about some of the issues he says will take a fundamental shift in how Oklahoma City approaches education.

Rob Neu: The activities that I set out to do, pretty much done with ’em. And so now it’s a matter of continuing the process of meeting with people. I’ve got some advisory committees that are starting up, parents, students, staff and principal advisories, that really will complete the process. I need to do a little bit more work with the legislature, but that’s starting to kick in a little bit. But I’ve really, I’ve got a pretty good feel for where we’re at right now and what our challenges are.

Rob: Now, teacher shortages are a problem around the state, but particularly in our urban districts. What can you do in Oklahoma City?

Neu: There’s a couple of things that we have to do. First of all we have to take some of this challenging problem into our own hands. And so we’ve been fortunate that we’ve actually, have for several years now, a relationship with the University of Central Oklahoma and the Urban Teachers Preparation Academy, and we’ve expanded that now to Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University. So with OU and OSU into the mix, we are really focusing on preparing teachers for the urban environment. But we also now are partnering with Oklahoma City Community College as well as UCO and offering our graduates in Oklahoma City who qualify who attend OCCC or UCO, graduate with a teaching degree, guaranteed a job to come back, and if they give us three years they’re going to be debt free from college. So we’ve got to take this into our own hands. At the same time, we’ve got to go to the legislature and say, “Hey, teacher pay is an issue, it’s a statewide issue, and we’ve got to increase it.” And the last piece is, we’ve got to get some help from the private sector, and we have to offer some incentives to come here, some relocation packages. Because once I think people get here, like I did, you don’t want to leave.

Rob: Let’s talk about some other hot button issues, the first one being high stakes testing. There’s really two camps, one that if you can’t measure it you can’t achieve it, and the other one, we’re teaching too much to the test and it’s taking up all of our class time. What’s your feelings?

Neu: My feelings are that we’ve gone too far with it. There’s an overemphasis on the test – teaching to the test. And I see some really ill effects from that. I see teachers that are on this treadmill or hamster wheel just trying to cover content to get kids ready for the test. And that’s ruining the love of teaching. And that translates directly to kids. Kids know it. And so I think we’ve got to be careful, we’ve got to swing back. I think there has to be accountability. I welcome accountability but I think the test is only one measure. And we as a community have an opportunity to really identify what are those other things that we want to see in our kids and to measure us by those. And so we’re starting a great conversation in November, it’s going to take us about six months to go through and at the end I want metrics that this community feels are more important, most important, and what they’re going to hold us accountable for.

Rob: Dropouts continue to remain a problem here in Oklahoma, again especially in our urban areas. What do we do in Oklahoma City?

Neu: Well, first of all we’ve got to prevent it. And we start by making our students partners in our education. For too long, forever, we’ve worked on kids or for them. We have to work with ’em. We have to give students voice. We have to know who they are. We have to know their name, that’s important to ’em. Fifty-four percent of high school students or secondary students in America don’t think that teachers know their name, 52 percent don’t know if teachers care if they are there or not. But 95 percent of those same kids think their parents think education is important. It’s a huge disconnect. So we’ve got to know them by their name. We’ve got to know their strength. We’ve got to know them by their need. We have to know their hopes and dreams, and we have to connect their learning to them. We have to prevent dropouts by engaging kids in their learning and instill the love of learning and a purpose for their learning. At the other end of the scale, we have to be creative and innovative and use technology in ways that we can recapture the kids who have left us. We’ve got to get them back, because the cost of dropout to them and to us is way too high.

Rob: Is it fair to say, when we’re talking about dropouts, that one size just doesn’t fit all when it comes to education?

Neu: It is more than fair to say that. I like to say we have to design to the edges. We forever have taught to the average, to the middle, and now with technology that’s available, software applications that are available, we have to differentiate the learning, we have to personalize the learning so that we can meet all kids as individuals and take them on their path and their journey. That’s hard work, and it’s going to take an investment. It’s going to take an investment of technology, it’s going to take an investment in attracting the teachers to the profession and making sure that we have not only our classrooms filled with qualified teachers, but great teachers and great principals.

Rob: What’s the role of charter schools here in Oklahoma City?

Neu: Charter schools, enterprise schools, application schools all play a significant role. They’re all public schools. They’re all public education students. They are all our students. What we have to do is do a better job of making sure that these pieces fit together into a coherent puzzle and so that we have a menu or a portfolio of options so that when parents come to Oklahoma City here’s what we have to offer and that all these choices are excellent. What fits their student’s needs the best?

Rob: And if job longevity is any indication, being superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools is one tough job. Rob Neu is the ninth superintendent for the state’s largest district since the year 2000 – that’s nine leaders in the last 15 years.

Female Announcer: Still to come on “Oklahoma Horizon,” turning New Year’s resolutions into lifelong habits. But first, a gift of love.

Matt Campbell: What I hope that she remembers is how caring and giving her, you know, Jessica was.

Rob McClendon: For some of us Valentine’s Day seems just a bit trite – sappy sentiments that often feel forced. So when we learned the story of Matt Campbell and his late wife Jessica, their gift of love was one we needed to share. Here is our Andy Barth.

Andy Barth: It’s shiny, it’s red, and it’s free.

Matt Campbell: Metro Tech’s done a lot of good for me, and so I’m paying it forward and trying to help another student out.

Andy: Matt Campbell is an executive officer for Metro Tech, a place that holds a lot of memories.

Campbell: I was a student at Metro Tech, back in 2002. I had been laid off from my job. Part of my story is that I was married then. My wife was terminally ill so we were on a very limited income.

Andy: Campbell’s wife passed in 2008. And in 2011, he married his second wife, Jessica. Then tragedy struck once again in 2013. Campbell, his new wife and their granddaughter, of whom they are legal guardians, were in an auto accident. Jessica was killed instantly. And so Campbell began raising his granddaughter, Sophia, and decided to get rid of Jessica’s car. Yet instead of selling it --

Announcement: The recipient of the car is, her name is Samiyah Dungee.

Andy: -- he gave it away to a student who needed it.

Samiyah Dungee: I feel so ecstatic. I feel like all my problems for my car are gone.

Andy: Samiyah Dungee’s old car went through Hurricane Katrina, making it very dangerous to drive, which is a problem for this busy student.

Dungee: I go to college, I go to OCCC for diversified studies. And then I come here for nail technology. And I also work at Edee’s Discounts.

Andy: And Dungee isn’t the only one excited about her new wheels.

Samiyah: Do you remember that contest I told you about winning the car?

Grandma: Yes.

Samiyah: I won the car.

Grandma: Shut your mouth!


Andy: And while it’s a happy day for Samiyah, it’s bittersweet for Campbell. Yet he hopes this lesson will impact his granddaughter.

Campbell: What I hope that she remembers is how caring and giving, her, you know Jessica was. She called her Mommy; she stills calls her Mommy. And so that’s what I’m hoping that she gets out of it.

Andy: And for Dungee, she couldn’t be more appreciative.

Dungee: Honestly, it’s a blessing because not every day does someone just get something like this.

Andy: Paying it forward, even through life’s toughest tragedies.

Rob: And it is that gift of love that makes the Campbell family and the Metro Tech Foundation this week’s Oklahoma Standard.

Rob McClendon: Want to share something you’ve seen here today? Well, all of our episodes are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV, or you can subscribe to our weekly free podcast on iTunes.

Rob McClendon: So how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Well, if you are like most of us, some better than others. That is why a program run by Oklahoma City’s County Health Department is designed to help city residents turn wellness goals into healthy habits. Joining me now is our Austin Moore.

Austin Moore: Rob, we first learned about this program when a viewer wrote in to tell us about his incredible experience. And as he showed me, the participants’ transformation goes well beyond their waistlines.

Austin: David Smith has a story all too familiar.

David Smith: I had reached nearly 260 pounds in weight. I was sedentary. I was lethargic. I just, I didn't, I didn't feel like David anymore.

Austin: But David's story has a plot twist. It all started when he enrolled in a Total Wellness class offered through the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.

David: I made a commitment to myself. I wrote it on the piece of paper, and I stuck it on my door, the day that the class would begin, and I made a personal commitment to attend and to be there every single class.

Swimming’s great, so that there is no way I can eat and do the activity at the same time, because you can eat and walk. I’ve proved that.

Jennifer Like: We at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department offer an eight-week weight loss program called Total Wellness. It is a chronic disease prevention program to help people prevent and manage diabetes and heart disease. So what we do is we come in and meet for an hour each week talking about how to eat healthier, how to get more physical activity in and also how to make lifestyle changes.

Austin: Jennifer Like and Alison Drain are two of the nutritionists teaching the Total Wellness program. They will have as many as nine classes around town for a given period with as many as 50 adults in each class.

Alison Drain: When you are with a group of people who all have the same goal that you do, and you can talk with each other, you can swap ideas. I think that is the secret. If you are trying to do weight loss or change your lifestyle on your own without a great map, maybe you have got a book you got at the library or something like that, but that support is really important to help people continue to stay motivated.

David: We became fast friends in our class right off the bat. The very first night everybody kind of grouped together and introduced themselves, and the support was there from the very beginning.

Austin: And once that class started, David found a familiar lesson that finally stuck.

David: It is what we have all known and we have all heard forever, which is diet and exercise. And I guess I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I wanted to, I wanted to live.

I will eat within portions, and I will make sure that I will not overeat, and then I will make sure that I exercise afterward.

Jennifer: We know we should have more vegetables and exercise more, but we just don't. We are not really sure how to make it fit into our lives. And so we really try and help the participants understand how to make that change.

Austin: That lesson has been key for Patricia Carter.

Patricia Carter: This class taught me how to substitute, that I thought I couldn't do because I'm a finicky eater. But with the plan that they have, I could find things on the menu that I can eat. And so it is just like a lightbulb. Said this is it.

Austin: That same lightbulb went on for David Smith.

David: So I'm completely off of medications. I've lost 40 pounds. Over the last few months I've gone from a size 44 waist. Before I ended the course, or graduated, I was wearing a size 38 and today have to pull my pants up to keep them on. My life has changed. It's been transformational.

Austin: A transformation that began with his mind and led to a healthier body.

Rob: Well, Austin, it sounds like a great program for folks that live in Oklahoma County, but what about people that may live elsewhere?

Austin: You can usually find a similar program through your county health department or your county extension office. But even if there is not a local program that fits your schedule, technology is giving some help in terms of smartphone apps and websites that allow you to make better decisions and track your progress.

Rob: So turning these New Year’s resolutions into healthy habits, what do the experts recommend?

Austin: Well, everyone down at Total Health comes back with the same thing, and that’s community. You’ve got to have people that you can lean on and people you are accountable to.

Rob: All right. Thanks so much, Austin.

Austin: You’re welcome, Rob.

Rob McClendon: You can keep up with us throughout the week. Just head to where you can see more of any of our stories, read our reporters’ behind the scenes blogs, see what others are saying about us on Twitter and face the facts with our regular updates. So reach out and touch us anywhere and anytime.

Rob McClendon: Well, providing for family is something most of us aspire to, yet doing so can be a challenge in today’s economy. Here is our Courtney Maye.

Courtney Maye: Well, after the latest recession, many people were found without a job. While some were forced to take lower paying positions, others went back to school to learn a trade. We met with one Bartlesville man who saw Tri County Technology Center as a second chance at a career.

Courtney: It’s a typical auto body shop. But for one employee, it’s where he always wanted to be.

Brook Barnes: I’ve always just liked tearing stuff apart, fixing things and making things work that didn’t.

Courtney: Brook Barnes is like most students needing a job and credits Tri County Technology Center for giving him a new twist on life.

Barnes: I always thought that I couldn’t do it. And then once I finally decided to apply myself, it was easier than I thought. So I thought I would try it out, and they had an auto service program so I was ready.

Courtney: And for shop owner Ron Truitt, he too knows the benefits of Tri County Tech’s auto mechanic program.

Ron Truitt: When I was in high school, my junior year, I signed up, and I went out there for my two years of Tri County Tech in the auto mechanics class, which I’ve grown up in this field anyway when I was a kid. My dad owned the business and started it back in ’57 so I knew how to do quite a bit of stuff. So I took my junior year and passed it and then my senior year. The teachers were really good.

Courtney: And Truitt says Barnes has learned a lot in the business.

Truitt: He’s really come a long ways. He’s learning. He’s told me he’s learned a lot in the last couple months he’s been here on all the different things he didn’t know how to do.

Courtney: And with this new knowledge, Barnes doesn’t plan on going anywhere.

Barnes: I’m hoping to stay here as long as I can. They’re good people, a good place to work. It’s a local business, family oriented. And you know the boss is great, so.

Courtney: And as for his future.

Barnes: Keep working. Just working. That’s it. Better my situation, better my family’s situation.

Courtney: Fixing mechanical problems all while turning his life around.

Courtney: Now, we recently caught up with Barnes and learned that he graduated from the program and is working in Bartlesville as an automotive mechanic.

Rob McClendon: Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we look at the history and the future of Oklahoma energy giant Phillips 66.

We think that there’s a place for everything whether it’s solar, nuclear, biofuels. Everybody’s got a place. We can’t just look at one fuel for the good of the nation.

Rob McClendon: Plus, we will look at what lower gas prices could mean for state services on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob McClendon: Well, that is going to wrap us up for today, but you can see more of any of our stories on our website at; you can listen to us on the go with our weekly podcast on iTunes; follow us throughout the week on Twitter at OKHorizonTV; or just become a “Horizon” fan on Facebook. I’m Rob McClendon. Thanks for including us in your day. See you back here next week.

Male Announcer: “Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, helping good people grow good things.

Copies of today’s show are available on our website,

Thank you for watching “Oklahoma Horizon.”