Karl Springer shakes his head when he thinks about what happened at Douglass High School.
“There's no doubt the issues that have arisen at Douglass, they're disgusting,” said Springer, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools. “ ... Ironically, the reason I came here was to find things like what happened at Douglass. We set about trying to get these things straightened out.”
What started as allegations of grade fixing and absence fraud turned into a broader investigation into chronic academic mismanagement.
The principal resigned. New leaders came in. The state Education Department was asked to audit student transcripts — a practice that will expand to the entire district.
Seniors who were missing credits had their scheduled shuffled. Some are going to class on Saturdays, at night, during winter break and online. Many receive tutoring and extra help. Teachers are putting in extra hours. Everyone is hustling.
There's plenty of blame and plenty of finger-pointing. But Springer takes the brunt on himself.
“I feel primarily responsible for everything that happens in the Oklahoma City Public Schools — good, bad or indifferent,” Springer said.
Then rumors spread among district employees and the public that he might resign — maybe even be fired. How could the man responsible for a district so hurt survive a scandal like that?
Springer thought about stepping down. He turns 65 this year and could have retired a decade ago. Should he leave? Would it be best for the district? In the end, he decided no.
“There's much to be done in Oklahoma City,” he said. “The only reason I come to work in the morning is because of the kids in this school district.”
When Springer interviewed for the superintendent position, District 3 board member Phil Horning said he remembers being impressed with Springer's dedication to children.
“Secondly, he is as close to being without ego of anyone I ever met in a similar position of leadership,” Horning said.
Horning said everyone is sick over the Douglass controversy.
“No one associated with the district is satisfied and especially in light of the Douglass issue,” Horning said. “No one could be. But if effort equaled success, we would be successful. But the problems are immense. (Springer) and his staff work hard on them every day. No one is more upset about what happened at Douglass than the people who (are) responsible for the district.”
Springer began his education career working with the most profoundly disabled students. He's been a teacher, coach and administrator. He left the top job at Mustang Public Schools in July 2008 to come to Oklahoma City.
He is known to skip lunch because it breaks his focus. Long nights are common; sick days are rare. He's a military man and a marathoner.
No one's perfect, school board Chairwoman Angela Monson said, but Springer's done well. Even after the Douglass chaos was exposed, Monson said she doesn't feel Springer should step down or be fired.
The breadth and depth of mismanagement at Douglass reflects systemic problems that need to be addressed by the district and the community, Monson said.
“The response to Douglass is not to fire the superintendent,” Monson said. “The real response is to look at the academic success of our students much earlier. ... It requires everybody moving in the same direction.”
A superintendent's job is in the hands of the school board, District 7 board member Ron Millican said. The board is expected to complete their annual review of Springer in the coming week.
Last year, the board gave Springer areas for improvement during his evaluation. ACT scores needed to go up. Reading in the younger grades needed to improve. Communication had to get better.
But overall, Springer does a good job, Millican said.
“Karl has an extremely difficult job. His heart's in the right place. He's an extremely hard worker,” he said. “The incident at Douglass was certainly a black eye on the district.”
Ruth Veales, whose district encompasses Douglass High School, did not return phone messages requesting an interview. Neither did board member Jay Means. Board member Laura Massenat was out of the country.
Stability is praised
Community and parent support for Douglass High School is still lacking, said District 2 board member Gail Vines.
“It's so easy to say what's wrong, and it's so hard to try to fix it,” Vines said.
Getting rid of Springer won't help fix the problems, she said. She respects him and what he's done for Oklahoma City.
Vines, who has served on the board for the past eight years, has seen a parade of superintendents come in and out before Springer was hired. She said has watched him get his footing as the district's leader and begin to turn the ship.
“It does take time,” she said. “That's not an excuse. That's a reality.”
Eight superintendents led Oklahoma City Public Schools in the decade before Springer was hired. He's the longest tenured superintendent since the 1990s.
District 1 board member Lyn Watson said she hasn't heard public backlash against Springer because of recent the controversy.
“He's brought more stability than anyone has in 10 years,” Watson said. “I applaud him for that. We needed that. To have someone in the superintendent seat for more than a year is what we needed.”
Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendents
A look at Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendents since 1979:
• 1979-82: Thomas Payzant, took superintendent job in San Diego.
• 1983-85: Donald Wright, took superintendent job in Arlington, Texas.
• 1985-92: Arthur Stellar, took a superintendent job in an Atlanta suburb amid lawsuits and controversy that he bilked Oklahoma City Public Schools out of thousands of dollars in unpaid sick leave.
1992-95: Betty Mason, retired.
1995-2000: Marvin Crawford, bought out by the school board.
2000-01: Guy Sconzo, took superintendent job in Texas.
2000-03: William F. Weitzel, served as a duel superintendent, retired.
2003: Pamela Powell, interim superintendent, transferred to another job within in the district.
2003-06: Bob Moore, took superintendent job in Texas.
2006-07: Linda S. Brown, interim superintendent, retired.
2007-08: John Q. Porter, resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing, though a six-week investigation by the district attorney cleared him of any criminal activity.
2008: Sandra Park, acting superintendent, transferred to deputy superintendent.
2008 to present: Karl Springer.