June 11, 2023

Beth Wallis: Oklahoma superintendents respond to Walters’ claims, rhetoric

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Oklahoma’s state superintendent may be one of the most anti-public education leaders in the country, with a steady stream of dismissive and inflammatory statements. And school superintendents are noticing.

Many of the headlines from reports about State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ May 1 House committee hearing focused on his more inflammatory comments: terrorist teachers’ unions, the previous superintendent’s “dumpster fire” of an administration and common refrains of leftist indoctrination in the classroom.

But another theme also stood out: Walters repeatedly emphasized his focus on open communication with superintendents around the state.

“I’ve been out and all around Oklahoma,” Walters said. “And done meetings with every superintendent in the state on a Zoom call.”

But when StateImpact sent out a survey to those superintendents, a much more complex picture emerged.

Out of 190 responses, 42 said they had met with Walters in a large group, and 16 said they had met in a small group.

Asked specifically how much time they’d spent directly interacting with Walters, 150 respondents answered they’d spent zero minutes with him.

Walters’s Zoom meetings with superintendents were one-sides–in one case the chat box was disabled. Superintendent of Mid-Del Public Schools Rick Cobb talks about one of the meetings.

Cobb attended the April Zoom meeting. He said Walters greeted the superintendents, told them he was available for anything they needed at any time, and touted bringing back State Department employees from remote work. Then Walters left the meeting, and the superintendents remained in the virtual room.

“We’re all looking at each other like, ‘What just happened?’ And then one person laughed and then a bunch of people laughed. And then I decided I just need to log off before I say something,” Cobb said. “But I think the consensus was that that really was a wasted opportunity. He had, you know, a whole bunch of leaders. He had over 100, I think, people in that room and missed an opportunity to really make some connections.”

Another superintendent has his own opinion about Walters’s approach.

Matt Riggs is the superintendent of the small, rural district of Macomb. He said Walters’ portrayal of schools is like a “caricature… so far outside of what is real.”

“What he has done through his entire approach to public life, from what I’ve seen, is create dragons for himself to slay,” Riggs said. “Do we have students here that, you know, some may identify in different ways? I’m sure we do. But our charge is to try to make those students’ lives better. Our charge is not to make them part of some kind of political conversation.”

Riggs said those dragons — leftist indoctrination, pornography pushing, terrorist teachers’ unions — just don’t exist. In a high-poverty area like Macomb, there are real problems, but Riggs says he doesn’t see a point in bringing those issues to Walters.

Many superintendents are quoted in the piece, along with more survey results, and it is a damning picture of Walters’s leadership. Read the full piece here. 

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