I had a wonderful visit to the Norman School District on Friday.
I toured the district's new Ronald Reagan Elementary School, built by funds from a recent bond issue. The school is a French language immersion school, meaning students learn many of their lessons in French. Studies show that students who have studied a foreign language perform much better than their monolingual peers on tests. I'm excited to see future results from this school. The elementary students endeared me by serenading me with a song in French.
Next, I toured a high school anatomy class at Norman North High School, where the teacher showed off the latest technology. State Board of Education member Bill Price and I, along with Principal Bryan Young, took a quiz by keying in answers on a device resembling a remote control. Answers are anonymously tabulated showing the teacher where students need more instruction before taking a big test. We also had the opportunity to observe engineering students demonstrate various projects they were completing — always fun.
Over a boxed lunch, students from Norman and Norman North high schools peppered me with a number of great questions ranging from teacher compensation to Advanced Placement course offerings to funding for college.
I also had the chance to meet with area superintendents; teachers, principals and Norman School Board Members; all of the elected officials who represent Norman in the state legislature; and several community leaders. There was a lot of discussion about the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation system being piloted this year in all Oklahoma schools. Another common theme for the day was the need for additional funding for education.
Teachers and administrators also asked for ideas on the best ways to educate parents about Reading Sufficiency, which will be fully implemented for the first time next school year. This reform mandates that all children performing unsatisfactorily in reading by the end of third grade will not be promoted, with the exception of those qualifying for a good cause exemption. While this is only a small percentage of our student body, even the thought that one child might be held back is concerning, yet, we cannot continue to promote children who cannot read. This puts them at greater risk of failing in school when the stakes are much higher than third grade. I urged the group I spoke with on Friday to tell parents to please read to their children and have their children read to them. We're planning now to promote a summer reading program that is built around the idea that if all children can read five books on their Lexile level, it will eliminate the summer slide that often occurs in students.
Visting Norman was great fun. I always love the opportunity to get into the school districts and hear directly from teachers, school leaders and students. I give them permission to ask me any question, and I do my best to provide thorough answers.
Since taking the job of State Superintendent, I've visited almost fifty school districts in nearly as many counties. I will continue to do so throughout my tenure in office. It is the only way I can truly assure I am hearing the needs of our educators and students and that they hear directly from me the purpose behind education reforms.