Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation

Annual Superintendents’ Luncheon has educators looking to future

Partnerships between Southeast Oklahoma schools and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma show promise for the future of education.

Crabtree_web Educators from across Southeast Oklahoma gathered Tuesday for the Second Annual Superintendents’ Luncheon hosted by Choctaw Nation Department of Education at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton.

The Sept. 17 meeting was focused on continuing and strengthening a cooperative effort between the 85 school districts represented within Choctaw Nation’s 10.5 counties and the Choctaw Nation Department of Education. Superintendents from almost all these schools were present for the gathering.

Since the initial luncheon in 2012, a pilot program set in place between Durant Schools and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) has seen considerable success. That program is the Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE), and is charged with providing academic remediation to students in grades Pre-K through 2nd grade, according to Paula Harp, director of POSSE.

“It was a wonderful program and a great partnership,” said Valerie Crabtree, principal of the Durant summer school program as she took the podium to discuss methods utilized and results discovered upon completion of the pilot.

According to Crabtree, POSSE’s inaugural summer was well received by students, teachers and parents alike. Teachers were thrilled to be working in a more hands-on situation with smaller classes and more time to devote to each student, she said.

Parents of the elementary students were pleased to see their kids reinforcing subjects key to a solid academic foundation, assuring that students were progressing at a steady pace. “Our phones were ringing off the hook with more parents wanting to enroll their kids in our summer school program,” Crabtree stated.

The seven-week program hosted at Washington Irving Elementary saw 185 Kindergarten through 2nd grade students. Those enrolled in the pilot were by teacher recommendation. Classes were held Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., and spanned June 3 to July 25.

STAR_web The summer’s agenda was set up with an overarching theme, “The Great Outdoor Adventure,” and contained smaller sub-themes to encourage a more immersive, interesting and therefore effective experience. Intense morning classes covered core subjects and afternoon activities reinforced lessons in a fun way.

A total of 16 morning and seven afternoon teachers, combined with the help of Choctaw Nation summer youth workers, “created a different approach to learning. [We] traded in a traditional approach to a more hands-on and diverse learning,” according to Crabtree.

The results of this technique speak to its success. According to a report submitted by the Choctaw Nation Department of Education,

  • Pre-K class average showed improvement of 19 percent in letter recognition and 30 percent in sound recognition.
  • Kindergarten – 83 percent learned all capital and lower case letters and 73 percent recognized all required sounds.
  • Young people who acted as tutors are now interested in teaching. Others have a better understanding of how to help their own children some day.

In 2014, POSSE is planning to expand to all of Bryan County utilizing Rock Creek and Calera facilities along with Durant as centers for all schools. During the program, CNO pays for all salaries, snacks, supplies, and arts and crafts materials, while the schools are responsible for providing teachers, transportation, software and meals, according to the report.

Another hot-topic at the gathering was the Choctaw Making A Difference (MAD) program, which is geared toward high school students. This initiative’s first priority is to make sure Choctaw students graduate.

MAD has helped in several differing facets of education. From providing the means for students to retake the End of Instruction (EOI) tests when needed, to providing extra tutoring and/or counseling, MAD has already made a considerable difference in the lives of Choctaw students.

To increase that influence, Choctaw Nation’s Education Department has encouraged all superintendents to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) allowing certain portions of their student information databases to be shared with CNO.

This sharing of information will allow CNO to identify Choctaw students, enabling them to enroll in the program and receive help they were previously ineligible to acquire. Forty-six MOUs were signed prior to the meeting, contributing to the growing influence of MAD.

“Kids that might not have graduated, have graduated because of the Choctaw Nation,” stated Clayton School Superintendent Randall Erwin, as he spoke of the impact MAD has already made in his school.

Cary Ammons, superintendent of Antlers Schools was also onboard with cooperating with CNO through MAD. By allowing the sharing of information, Ammons hopes to streamline services by identifying Choctaws in the school district, permitting more access to services afforded by CNO.

Choctaw Nation has been so good to us by providing help, “it’s a no brainer for us,” said Ammons, who hopes to have the infrastructure in place by May.

Also on the agenda, was an address to the educators from CNO Language Director Jim Parrish, STAR Program Director Jason Campbell, Chahta Foundation Director Stacy Shepherd and Tribal Councilman Thomas Williston.

Parrish and Campbell shared updates on each of their programs, discussing the benefits already offered to students within the school districts, as well as future ways CNO hopes to strengthen education.

Campbell mentioned that the STAR program currently has almost 16,000 students enrolled. “It all started with your help,” he said thanking the school leaders.

Shepherd informed attendees of the all the initiatives afforded by the Chahta Foundation, a non-profit organization that works closely with CNO. Through the foundation, students are able to receive scholarships as well as preserve their heritage.

Williston, who spoke on behalf the tribal council, sang praises to the efforts of both school districts and CNO programs alike. He and the Choctaw leadership were pleased at the cooperation each of the districts has displayed, allowing for the betterment of the youth.