NORMAN — State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi defended the A-F school grading system and addressed school safety Friday in a community forum at Norman North High School as part of a tour of the Norman School District.
The school report cards based on an A-F grading system are meant to be helpful, not punitive, Barresi said.
“It is a way to report to you about the performance of students,” she said. “It is not finger-pointing. It has nothing to do with getting rid of teachers. No teachers, no principals or superintendents are fired because of it.”
The report card system is a way to identify areas that need improvement so improvements can be made, Barresi said.
The system indicates that schools with a greater population of lower-income children do not fare as well as other schools, Barresi said, but the intention is not to shame or punish them.
“Do we want to hide our children of poverty? I believe the only way out of poverty is education,” she said. “If it points out poverty, we need to talk about what we can do for children of poverty. You can't do that by hiding them.”
One of the best things to come out of the new grading system so far, Barresi said, “is that it has created a wonderful conversation across the state about public school education.”
Improvements in teaching methods and curriculums will come as a result of the evaluations, she said.
“The arrow is going up, I guarantee you,” she said.
Safety issues vary
Asked about school safety, Barresi said no single solution fits every district.
“We have an entirely different situation in every district. Some schools are very secure, and some are not. Some schools in rural areas are 30 minutes away from a first-responder,” she said.
Since the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Barresi said, she has faced repeated questions from students concerned about their safety in the classroom.
“So job one is to help these kids feel safe in their own classrooms. I wish I had a magic bullet for this, but I don't,” Barresi said.
She applauded efforts by the governor's office and the Legislature in addressing school safety through the formation of a committee to study the issue. She also praised schools' efforts in holding disaster drills “for all kinds of disasters. I think that's important to do.”
When asked specifically if she favored arming teachers, Barresi said, “No one solution fits every school. … I expect the debate will continue.”
‘Putting a face on what we do'
Adequate public school funding remains an issue, Barresi said, adding that funding teacher training to improve classroom effectiveness is high on her priority list.
“The quality of the education we provide is the most important thing,” she said.
Barresi lunched with high school students and toured Norman's newest and most cutting-edge elementary school, Ronald Reagan Elementary School, which opened its doors in September, calling it “not just a building, but a support for children's education.”
She also praised Norman's curriculums, technology and the district's attention to providing alternative education.
Barresi's appearance in Norman is part of a tour of Oklahoma schools. The superintendent said she visits at least one district a week, and sometimes as many as three or four.
“I can't tell you how constructive it is for me,” Barresi said. “It puts a face on what we do.”