Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer has spent the past five years running a school district that is a complex collage of challenges and successes.
The district is home to about 43,000 students — a population that would make it the 11th largest city in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma City School Board voted this spring to keep Springer on for at least another three years.
Springer answered questions about his work life and himself.
Q: You were born in California. How did you end up in Oklahoma?
A: My wife’s parents had retired to Oklahoma, and during a visit one summer, I interviewed on the spur of the moment to teach history and coach track and cross-country, which I had competed in in college. I was lucky enough to be hired immediately at Muskogee High School. Although we only intended to live here for a year or two, we came to love Oklahoma. We raised our children here.
Q: You started your career as a special-education teacher. Why?
A: I was an aide to a handicapped student during my graduate year in college. He was brave and optimistic despite his disabilities and made me appreciate the potential each of us has. Years later, during my first year of teaching, I was asked to start a Special Olympics track meet in that district. That inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in special education and change my focus from regular education to working with children with disabilities.
Q: How does your military service help you in your job now?
A: I have learned that personal responsibility, attitude and a fighting spirit overcome all challenges. I try to lead by example. The biggest lesson in the military was creating the best organization by mentoring and encouraging the success of others.
Q: Why did you decide to apply for the Oklahoma City superintendent job?
A: I believed, as I do now, that Oklahoma City has the potential to be an outstanding urban school district. I want to be part of that transformation. I think that every child, no matter his circumstances or background, has the potential to succeed in school and in life. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded with great teachers and administrators who have the same vision. It is difficult sometimes, but the rewards are evident when we see our children growing and achieving. I am encouraged by the progress we’re beginning to see yearly.
Q: Where do you see Oklahoma City Public Schools in 20 years?
A: At the current rate of growth, Oklahoma City Public Schools will have over 60,000 students within the next 20 years. I see a district that will be a destination for young families wanting the best education for their children, providing college and career readiness comparable to any district in the nation. I envision Oklahoma City Public Schools with multiple opportunities in fine arts, athletics and extracurricular activities to meet and encourage the interests of every child. It will be the crowning glory of Oklahoma City, and I hope I’m still around to pat the superintendent in 2033 on the back.
Q: Several major investigations have wrapped up under your administration, such as the Douglass High School grade-changing scandal. What do these investigations say about the state of Oklahoma City Public Schools?
A: These investigations indicate that we are serious about transparency and school improvement. Immoral and/or illegal activities are not tolerated, and we are vigilant about uncovering any wrongdoing. These situations do not reflect the day-to-day effort of this district. Our staff is working diligently to bring about the improvements and changes for student success.
Q: How many marathons have you run, and what was your personal best? What is your exercise routine now?
A: I have run five marathons but have retired to shorter races now. My personal best in the marathon was 3 hours and 10 minutes at the Dallas White Rock Marathon years ago. These days I try to run 3 to 5 miles daily or ride my bike around Lake Hefner on the weekends.
Q: Do you ever eat lunch?
A: I often get caught up in the events of the day and forget to eat. But believe me, I make up for it with ice cream and anything chocolate.
Q: How did becoming a parent and then a grandparent affect how you do your job?
A: Every child is important and deserves adults who care about their successes and their goals. What I want for the children of Oklahoma City Public Schools is no different than the dreams I have for my own five grandchildren.
Q: You’re eligible for retirement. Why do you still work?
A: Every morning I’m excited to go to work, knowing that what we do makes a difference. I love the idea of education and the contribution that being an educator makes in the lives of students.