The two-story house Mark and Brenda Johnson are building between Mulhall and Orlando isn't just a home, it's a choice.
It's a choice for a way of life. It's a choice of school district. And the two go together, Brenda Johnson said.
More than a year ago, the Johnsons sold their current home and, at that point, had to make a decision.
Both are employed at Oklahoma State University, and it's about a 25-minute door-to-door drive. Did the parents of two elementary-age daughters want to shorten that commute and make it easier to get the girls to their activities? Or did they want to remain on their farm where they raise cattle and keep Sydney, a fifth-grader, and her sister Charley, a third-grader, in Mulhall-Orlando public schools?
The decision wasn't really that difficult, Johnson said.
Under the state Education Department's new A-to-F school evaluation system, Mulhall-Orlando was one of seven districts with more than one school that received all A's. Amber-Pocasset, Arapaho-Butler, Canadian, Central High, Reydon and Ripley districts also had all A's.
Just north of the Oklahoma City metro, Mulhall-Orlando is a district of about 250 students in Logan County. The elementary, pre-K through sixth, is in Mulhall and the junior high and high school, seventh through 12th, is in Orlando.
Robin Hill School in Cleveland County was one of five single-school districts receiving A's. It was joined by Bishop, Cottonwood, McCord and Pioneer, according to the state Education Department.
Robin Hill, located in the metro in Norman, has 252 students in pre-K through eighth grade. They are examples of the school districts receiving 4.0 grades.
“I think what makes it different is that all the teachers from every grade know all of the kids all the way through the system,” Brenda Johnson said of Mulhall-Orlando. “Before they even get to their next grade, that teacher has some idea who they are and they already have a relationship with them. They contribute to the learning of the kids from all grades.
“They all know the kids by name, they know their siblings and they know their parents in most cases. That's a luxury we have just because of the type of environment that we're in. A lot of us are farmers and ranchers. We all kind of rely on each other for one thing or another.”
J.B. Southerland and wife Lynn have two sons, Johnny in eighth grade and Zane in sixth grade attending Robin Hill School. J.B. said the size of the school district played a part in the decision of where to live.
“Growing up, I went to small schools and then moved down to Houston and went to a very large school,” he said. “So I've kind of seen both sides of it and it was like, ‘You know when I have kids let's look for something a little smaller.' And it's turned out to be fantastic, because it's just so personal. I know every teacher at that school by name.”
Knowing each other
In 1996, the Mulhall-Orlando High School graduating class included Joline Oldenburg. After college, she taught six years at Perry, five at Kingfisher and now has returned to her home district.
“The only way a small school can succeed is for every teacher to take on multiple roles,” said Oldenburg, the high school principal. “M-O is blessed to have a hardworking and caring staff that is willing to do anything necessary for the betterment of our students and school.”
She said that teachers in the district believe every student can learn and stress the importance of being a lifelong learner. That goes for in and out of the classroom.
“We want students to be well-rounded,” she said. “We offer college classes and honor classes in addition to standard curriculum, athletics, student organizations and FFA.”
Brenda Johnson said although their children are in elementary, they like other aspects that tend to come with a small district.
“You have a lot more accountability,” Johnson said. “If you think about it, if you're a high school kid in that district everybody knows what you're doing pretty much, you learn to be accountable for yourself and if you stray too far, someone's going to straighten you out.”
Robin Hill is part of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools in Oklahoma. And while the school itself is located in the Norman city limits, portions of the district fall in other city limits as well, said district Superintendent Jim Martin.
Martin mentioned some of the same qualities as seen in Mulhall-Orlando, including how teachers are committed to the success of each child.
“This means every child in the building, not just in their classroom,” Martin said. “All teachers knowing all or most students in the building is a benefit of the small-school setting. In addition, teachers utilize tools and resources that are available to them.”
Martin said parents, the students themselves and the staff contribute to success in the district.
As work continues on the Johnsons' new house in the Mulhall-Orlando district, Brenda Johnson said they are pleased with the choice they've made.
“At the end of the day I want to go back to that community,” she said. “We want that school district and we want our cows around us.
“That's where we want to call home.”