GOP superintendent hopefuls debate here

By Anita Reding

Phoenix Staff Writer

Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi speaks Tuesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi speaks Tuesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Joy Hofmeister speaks Tuesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Joy Hofmeister speaks Tuesday.

Oklahoma’s Superintendent of Public Instruction said Common Core Curriculum should be accepted and state educators should move forward, while one of her opponents said she is against it.

Dr. Janet Barresi, superintendent, and candidate Joy Hofmeister were in Muskogee on Tuesday for a Republican candidates’ forum, fielding questions from a moderator and other members of the community.

Barresi, of Oklahoma City, has been Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction since January 2011. Hofmeister, of Tulsa, is a former public school teacher. Since 2000, she has been a small business owner and is a former member of the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

Brian S. Kelley of Edmond also is a Republican candidate for Oklahoma’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He was invited but did not attend the debate.

“Oklahoma’s public has spoken to their Legislature, and the Legislature has made their decision,” Barresi said regarding Common Core Curriculum.

She said during the past three years she has listened to teachers, parents and others who have had very serious concerns about it and others who have supported it.

“Where we are right now is a time to move forward,” she said. “This is a time for us to stop arguing about it.”

She added that the state should stop “bringing it back up and trying to re-create the Common Core” and should have  standards “that are even better than that.”

Teachers are saying these are areas where changes need to be made. It’s important to listen to educators, and standards need to be more rigorous for the kids to be ready for the 21st Century and those demands, she said.

“We are excited to stop the process,” Barresi said.

“I am against Common Core,” Hofmeister said. “I am for high standards.

“This is really an issue that goes to appreciation and understanding of federal intrusion, loss of autonomy in the classroom, with decision making being taken away from local schools, local teachers and parents,” she said, adding that the issue is about giving away rights as a state to be able to really say “we re-thought this, we want to revisit this” without threats from the federal government loss of flexibility or how funds are used.

“What we really have to address is who do we trust to rewrite those standards, because when we repeal that, we now have to write standards that reflect Oklahoma values and also will provide Oklahoma solutions so that our children will be competitive and ready,” Hofmeister said.

Moderator for the forum was Dr. Tim Faltyn, president of Connors State College. Faltyn prepared the questions presented during the debate, which was held at Indian Capital Technology Center.

In their opening statements, the candidates outlined some of their priorities for education in Oklahoma.

The education department is focusing “first and foremost on those things that children need to be very successful in the 21st Century,” Barresi said.

Reading is “really is the foundation of everything we are doing,” she said, adding that the department is also focused on the importance of accountability and expanding education choice for parents.

The state education department also is developing ideas for character education, she said.

There is a long list of things that have to change within the state education department, Hofmeister said.

“At the top of my priority list is testing,” she said. “We must work to increase time on instruction, less time on testing.”

Accountability also is needed in Oklahoma.

“The A-F grading system is not working,” she said.

Local control of education is needed. Education reform is needed, she said, “but it’s only going to happen when you work together.”

Questions from the audience focused on several issues — whether the candidates attended the education funding rally at the state capitol on March 31, and would year-round school sessions improve the quality of education and make schools more financially efficient.

Barresi said she did not attend the rally, because she did not support taking time away from attending school to attend the rally. She said the education department works closely with the Legislature on funding issues.

“It does not mean I don’t support more funding for education,” she said. “We’re in there constantly, year-round, not just one day.”

Hofmeister said she attended the rally and said she stood by the parents and teachers who attended to “express their civic right to lobby their legislators and to ask for what they believe they needed.”

What was discussed at the rally was multiple topics, including funding, but also a parent’s right to have choices and be involved and be engaged in decisions related to high-stakes testing, she said.

Year-round school sessions should be decided at the local district level, Hofmeister said.

“Longer days doesn’t mean we have higher student outcome,” she said. “It’s about the time spent on learning.”

Barresi said she is aware of some school districts that, after talking with parents, have switched to year-round sessions and are finding it beneficial.

In order to be at the national average, Oklahoma needs to add 10 instructional days to the calendar each school year.

“That requires dollar bills to be able to do that,” Barresi said.

Schools also need more days and more time on task, she said.

The four Democrats running for the state office include Jack C. Herron of Norman; John Cox of Hulbert; Freda Deskin of Edmond; and Ivan Holmes of Oklahoma City. The primary election is June 24.

Reach Anita Reding at (918) 684-2903 or areding @muskogeephoenix.com.