Karl Springer is proudest of his efforts to reconfigure the Oklahoma City Public Schools calendar, add new elementary school curriculum and bring elite teachers to the district.
But the outgoing superintendent acknowledged Tuesday being most frustrated by his inability to dramatically improve academic performance throughout the state's largest school district during his five-year tenure.
“My biggest failure is the academic achievement of our students hasn't been what it could have been,” Springer said during an interview with The Oklahoman.
While Springer points to “incremental improvement” across the district, thousands of students can't read and can't do math at grade level.
Still, Springer said he believes the district is on the right track and said academic achievement is improving.
He said it will be imperative for his successor to strengthen community relationships to meet the needs of students, many of whom live in poverty.
“It is not the reason that the children are being unsuccessful … but it is an obstacle for them,” he said.
“When kids come to school and they're hungry, or they go to sleep at night and they're hungry, or they're not sure exactly where they're going to be living from week to week and month to month, those kinds of things have an effect on the child.”
Suggestions for future
Among the solutions Springer suggested for the district going forward: Adding before- and after-school programs and encouraging participation in extracurricular activities such as band, speech and athletics.
Another area of importance will be increasing community participation from businesses and individuals, including parents, to help improve literacy.
“We've got to be able to get more mentors and role models into the schools to really help with that,” he said.
“It is absolutely the responsibility of public schools to educate our children, and it's our problem, no doubt about it.”
Springer, 65, steps down Aug. 30.
He announced his retirement in early July, shortly after signing a three-year extension.
Before being hired in July 2008 he was superintendent for Mustang Public Schools.
“This summer I took a look in the mirror, and I saw my dad and I realized that I am in the middle of my seventh decade of life,” he said.
“I'm ready to become a volunteer. I'm ready to really engage on a personal level to help children be successful.”
Oklahoma City School Board members recently approved a national search firm with success placing superintendents in urban school districts.
The board also is considering whether to name an interim leader during their search.
“The board really needs to be looking for somebody who really cares about children and is able to maneuver the political processes in Oklahoma City and in the state,” Springer said.
“But the biggest thing that this person needs to really be able to focus on is going to be moving the academic bar, being able to improve achievement.”
The school district has about 45,000 students in preschool through 12th grade.
Springer defended the district's 2,500 classroom teachers, who he said “get beat up quite a bit,” but are “as good or better as any other group of teachers you're going to find in any suburban area.”
“This school district has moved forward,” he said.
“It's time now to have someone come in and take the baton and really move this school district with the achievement issues. I want to see that happen.”
This school district has moved forward. It's time now to have someone come in and take the baton and really move this school district with the achievement issues. I want to see that happen.”
Outgoing Oklahoma City superintendent