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Family inspires Oklahoma teacher's dedication to education, service

Deer Creek Middle School teacher Leif Francel has done volunteer work around the globe, and his sister Elise is following his footsteps.
By Steve Gust, For The Oklahoman Published: July 23, 2014

Leif Francel has squeezed a lot of life into 27 years.

The Deer Creek Middle School science teacher said he is compelled to serve, an ambition that has taken him around the world. And his sister Elise is following his path.

Leif Francel holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His major was in urban planning.

He took a year off in 2005 to serve the world’s needy. People don’t come much needier than in Tanzania, in east Africa. He spent six months helping to build shelters and volunteered in orphanages where babies were suffering from HIV/AIDS.

“I had been accepted in MIT, but a few weeks before school was going to start, I told them I wanted to take a year off,” he said.

That came about after he visited with his pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Yukon.

“I told him I wanted to serve, and eventually this (mission work) was recommended to me,” Francel said.

Education advocate

Francel is fresh off a run for political office. He went after the open seat for state Senate District No. 22, which takes in west Edmond, Oklahoma County and parts of Canadian County including Yukon.

In the June primary, he came away third with nearly 30 percent of the vote. Mark Thomas and Stephanie Bice, his fellow Republican opponents, will meet in the Aug. 26 runoff.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get blown out or blow out my opponents.”

He’s a bit burned out on the political process now, but vows to remain an advocate for the issue that led him to run — education. Calling himself a “relentless warrior for education,” he has seen the challenges in the classroom.

“There are kids in my class who are brilliant and score near perfect ACTs,” he said. “There are others who struggle reading the lab instructions.”

He also saw it when working at an inner city school in Boston, near MIT and Cambridge.

“Sometimes the children would be left at the school,” he said. “The police would have to come at 6 p.m. and take them home. Who knows if the parent was forgetful or if a mom was working three jobs to make ends meet.”

Family gives back

Francel, one of four children, is from a family that gives back. His father, Paul, is a retired neurosurgeon and his mother, Lisa, served as school board president in Piedmont as well as heading the chamber of commerce there. His brother and sisters also believe in foreign travel and helping people.

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