By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The 2012-13 school year comes to an end Thursday when classroom doors close and students are dismissed for summer vacation.
Hundreds of Stillwater High School seniors will perform the final obligation of their secondary education when they walk across the stage during graduation ceremonies Friday at Gallagher-Iba Arena, bringing to an official end a busy school year that produced many headlines.
The school district and Stillwater community was emotionally rocked in late September by the suicide of a 13-year-old eighth-grader just before classes were to begin at Stillwater Junior High.
The tragedy inspired the district to rethink job descriptions of school counselors and how they were using their time. The district began training in a Lifelines curriculum to make students and school staff more aware of students who are in distress.
The district also created a new position at the high school — director of assessment and accountability — who will serve as the manager of testing and data analysis, which will free up counselors to have more time to work with students one on one and in small groups.
“I really believe out of every tough situation, bad situation, sad situation that occurs, something positive comes out of it,” Superintendent Ann Caine said. “And I truly think we have grown as a result of our tragedy.”
The Stillwater suicide and other gun-related incidents, including the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., led to a state commission that analyzed school safety and security. The Oklahoma Commission on School Security came up with four measures that were signed into law in April, including the creation of the Oklahoma School Security Institute, which will act as a central agency for school security information and resources.
The school gun violence resulted in a nationwide debate over how to make schools more safe. But Caine said she is not in favor of arming teachers or employing more school resource officers. Instead, Caine said the district’s focus would be on the mental well-being of students.
The school district carried on with a significant building boom with the passage of more than $90 million in bonds since 2007. The big projects were the construction of new schools for Will Rogers Elementary School and Highland Park Elementary School. Will Rogers is expected to open soon after school begins next fall, while Highland Park is on schedule to open for the first day of classes.
Planning continues on the creation of an athletic complex at Cimarron Plaza that would include facilities for baseball, softball, soccer, swimming and tennis.
“It may not happen for two or three or four years, but it will happen,” Assistant Superintendent Jim Ryan said.
According to Ryan, passage of a $30 million bond in 2007 and construction of the new football stadium gave the Stillwater community confidence that “we could do it right.”
“Since that was a success, we were able to convince the community they could trust us with managing their money with school bonds,” Ryan said.
In February 2011, voters approved a $61.5 million bond for two new schools.
After several months of debate and input from the public, the Stillwater Board of Education approved a redistricting map for the district’s six elementary schools in October. The new boundaries take effect in the 2013-14 school year. Caine said fewer than 400 of the 3,000 elementary school students in the district will have to change schools.
An increase in elementary student enrollment resulted in Stillwater’s first realignment of boundaries since 2008.
Caine said she called each of the families who had children impacted by the change in school boundaries, finishing the last calls over spring break.
The state released its controversial A-F Report Cards in October, causing unrest by administrators who believed the evaluation model did not accurately assess school achievement and growth.
“It will be interesting to see what the final rules are for the formula for computing A-F,” Caine said. “There were multiple bills in the legislature this year to tweak it. ... I think A-F is here to stay. I just want to make sure that it’s fair as a way of grading our schools.”
There were several new initiatives in the district, including a free breakfast program, a prekindergarten enrollment drawing program, new class times, new teacher and administrator evaluation models and the continued implementation of the new Common Core State Standards.
Stillwater will provide free breakfasts to every student in the district beginning in the 2013-14 school year. The online enrollment drawing program was intended to be more fair to parents who wish to enroll their child in the early childhood program and to speed up the notification system. Beginning next school year, high school and junior high classes will begin at 9 a.m., one hour later than the present schedule, and let out at 4 p.m. The middle school will start at 8:30 a.m., 35 minutes later than now. Each of the elementary schools will begin at 8 a.m.
, 55 minutes earlier than now.
Administrators believe the changes will improve student performance as younger students are more responsive early in the day and secondary level students are more responsive later.
The state introduced a new teacher and administrator evaluation tool this year — Teacher Leader Effectiveness.
“It was a major change for those of us administering it and being evaluated by the new tool,” Caine said.
The Common Core State Standards will be fully operational in 2014, but Stillwater schools have been using the model for two years.
“Common Core is a grassroots effort nationwide to add more rigor to what we are doing,” Caine said.
A Stillwater teacher was one of 100 educators nationwide to be given a $25,000 Milken Educator Award this year. Gifted Resource Coordinator Tammy Mittelstet was honored during an assembly at Highland Park Elementary School in November.
Stillwater Middle School art teacher Crista McCann was named the teacher of the year and will represent Stillwater at the Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year competition in September.
“This is what’s so amazing about Stillwater,” Caine said. “We have over 400 really great teachers. If you’re not a great teacher, if your heart is not in it, you’re going to give up teaching because there is so much pressure on teachers now to do well. Students’ test scores are now tied to their teacher’s teaching certificate number. So if you’re not a rock star, you’re not going to survive.”