The future was in sharp focus in Sulphur yesterday.  

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, along with other members of the State Department of Education, gave a presentation to administrators from Sulphur and Davis schools, as well as the Sulphur and Davis chambers of commerce, about education funding, ICAP, the teacher shortage and Oklahoma Edge, an eight-year statewide comprehensive education improvement plan. 

“We have six big goals and metrics we’re measuring that we want to achieve by 2025,” Hofmeister said. “All of the work we do is going to be about addressing those needs. It’s an early start, all the way until they finish at a career tech or college.” 

The plan, which went into effect in 2017, emphasizes career guidance counseling, childhood literacy, improving Oklahoma’s education rankings and improving graduation rates. She said Oklahoma teachers will need a lot more support before those goals are within reach.

“They’re achievable, but they’re heavily reliant on having teachers,” Hofmeister said. “The teacher shortage is a real setback. We need to meet those needs so kids can get what they deserve.” 

During the presentation, Hofmeister spoke about financial and professional support for teachers as an attempt to stem the teacher shortage and improve the quality of education students receive. 

“Part of our ask is to have a school counselor corps,” Hofmeister said. “We’ve asked for $58 million to do that, to hire about 1,100 new counselors in the state. That’s really an aspirational request, but it is an amount that is tied to the appropriate counselor-student ratio.”  

Davis Superintendent Mark Moring said his district has keenly felt the absence of counselors in the last few years, and the additional proposed funding for counselors and mental health professionals would make a big difference if approved. 

“Several years ago, that was one of the places where Davis cut,” Moring said. “It slowly effects the classroom over time.”

He said the high school’s one counselor serves about 280 students, and a second counselor handles all students from Pre-K through eighth grade. During her presentation, Hofmeister mentioned the ideal counselor ratio is roughly 250 students to one counselor. Statewide, the average counselor-to-student ratio is one to 435.  

“The principals have to take on counseling duties, which pulls them away from the classroom,” Moring said. “That takes away from instructional help, then the teachers can’t get better. Cutting back on counselors effects the classroom the least immediately, but over time it does.” 

The department rolled out the Individual Career Academic Plan, a career development program students start when they’re young and continue throughout high school, in 2017. Hofmeister said ICAP is part of the overall comprehensive Oklahoma Edge plan. During the presentation, Hofmeister showed a video of professionals unwittingly becoming mentors when presented with a student struggling with an assignment on a laptop, to demonstrate how anyone can take on a teaching role. 

“We’re working on rolling that out so it’s not just a graduation requirement on a piece of paper, it’s really a process, it’s about planning.” Hofmeister said.  

Sulphur Superintendent Paula Crawford said mentorship programs and ICAPs are all on her district’s radar. 

“We’ve already been talking about adding a counselor to help,” Crawford said. “It’s going to be quite a bit of work.”

She said Sulphur’s business community already has close ties to the schools, so mentorships and internships are a natural progression for the district. 

“It’s going to be great for the kids,” Crawford said. “Our community is unbelievably supportive of the school. We have a lot of things already in place.”