Executive Q&A: Education consultant helps Oklahoma schools make the grade

Executive Q&A: After 15 years in education, Jan Barrick started Alpha Plus Educational Systems, which provides Oklahoma schools with the practice tests, materials and training they need, so their teachers can teach students to master the subject areas on which they’ll be tested.
by Paula Burkes Modified: March 16, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: March 16, 2014

In the early years after Jan Barrick started her education consulting business, her father and her Certified Public Accountant used to badger her annually around this time — tax time.

“When are you going to get a real job?” her father would ask, while her CPA was quick to point out that she earned less money than any of the five years she worked as a classroom teacher.

Fast-forward 28 years, and her CPA (she still uses the same one) isn’t hassling her now. In fact, he’s told her many times how proud he is of her, she said.

Barrick’s firm — Alpha Plus Educational Systems Inc. — provides Oklahoma kindergarten through 12th-grade schools with the curriculum, practice tests and training they need, so their teachers can use scientifically-proven methods to teach students to master the areas of reading, math and other subjects on which they’ll be tested. For example, if third-graders will be tested on comprehension, teachers instruct students how to understand what they’re reading versus focusing on phonetics, or sounding out words.

Her firm has brought schools graded “F,” based on students’ standardized test results, to a “B” in one school year and soon after to an “A.” For students in the sixth through 12th-grades, simulated standardized tests now are available online, Barrick said.

Alpha Plus, which employs 15, is working with 71 schools from inner city Oklahoma City and Tulsa to all four corners of the state. Schools pay $10,000 to $40,000 a year, plus material fees, for the service, depending on how frequently Alpha Plus experts visit. Schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent are required to spend up to 20 percent of their Title 1 federal funds on such improvement efforts.

From her 5,000-square-foot office building at 3315 NW 63, a property the company bought two years ago, Barrick, 62, sat down on Monday with The Oklahoman to talk about her professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:

Q: What childhood experiences most influenced your career?

A: My grandfathers, who were both entrepreneurs, and summerlong all-girl Camp Fire camps in Chattanooga outside my hometown of Lawton. Though I loved my grandmothers, I gravitated toward my grandfathers, whom I found much more interesting. My mother’s father raised cattle and ran a mercantile in Russell, which was near Mangum but is now a ghost town. My father’s father cut wheat, starting in Texas and following the crop to Canada. When I was real young, and before my dad went into insurance, I used to go with him and my grandfather through Oklahoma and Kansas, and sit on my dad’s lap while he drove the combine. At Camp C-Andy, from age 16 through my first year of college, I was in charge of the outdoor activities, helping with sports and games and teaching campers how to cook outside. We did everything, from cleaning the toilets to fixing them when they broke. Each year, there were about 100 to 115 school-age girls and only three adults: two cooks and a nurse.

Q: Did you set out early to become a teacher?

A: I did. My mother taught third grade. And when I was in first grade, I’d come home every day and teach my little sister what I learned. She could read “Tip and Mitten” when she was 4. With my friends, I’d always suggest playing school, of course volunteering to be the teacher. And if I couldn’t talk them into it, I’d line up my dolls and teach them. It was my favorite teacher — the late Esther Powell, who taught fourth grade at Garfield Elementary in Lawton — who inspired me to learn and influenced my decision to pursue special education. She told me it’s easy to teach above-average kids, but it takes a good teacher to teach students who have a hard time learning.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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•Position: Alpha Plus Educational Systems Inc., founder and chief executive

•Birth date and birthplace: June 4, 1951, Clinton.

•Childhood home: Lawton

•Family: Jerry Plant, married 20 years; stepdaughter Michelle Plant; a granddaughter, 20, and twin grandsons, 13.

•Education: University of Oklahoma, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in special education

•Her book: “The Way to an ‘A:’ How to Help Your Child Succeed in School”

•Housing addition: Nichols Hills

•Civic and professional contributions: She’s active in the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Oklahoma State Chamber, serves on the OU College of Education Board of Advocates and was past president of the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

•For fun: Gardening (favorite plantings include roses, hydrangeas, daffodils) and travel (last spring, she and a girlfriend spent two weeks in Dubai, where they viewed the city from the roof of the world’s tallest building and shopped for gold jewelry and designer purses).

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