RIPLEY – Lisa Pitts took a job at Ripley Schools because of family and now, more than three decades later, she is retiring because of family.
Pitts – the current superintendent of the district and former longtime elementary principal – was a young teacher at Yale when a position as a reading instructor came up at Ripley all those years ago.
At the time, she and her husband, Brent, were living in Perkins and had a young son, Cameron, who would have to spend most of the day with a babysitter. So, Pitts took the job at Ripley and cut her commute in half.
Now, after seeing the district continue to grow and students come and go, Pitts has decided that it is time to step down. Her mother, Shirley, is 77 and Pitts would like to spend some time with her. She would also like to watch her grandkids grow up as she reflects on a long career as an educator.
“I got here and I loved the kids and loved the community so it kind of stuck,” Pitts said. “… I had a baby who was staying in Perkins with a sitter and I really wanted to stay close to him. That brought me to Ripley and the rest is pretty much history. I have loved it and loved my family and teachers. It has been a wonderful place to grow as an educator.”
Pitts only got into education because of advice from her brother. Back in the 1980s, she was only interested in one thing: basketball.
A guard for Lomega High School back in the 6-on-6 days, Pitts won two state championships for a program that has now won 12 titles. Playing for coach Karen Edgar, who later went on to marry Hall of Fame college coach Bobby Knight, Pitts never really thought about life beyond basketball until her brother told her to try teaching.
“He said you are really, really good with kids and should think about that as a career option,” Pitts said. “When I graduated high school, I went to Southwestern. I had a scholarship there so I went there and started toward the education field to see if I liked it and I did.”
Pitts started out as a teaching assistant at Washita Heights in the small town of Colony near Weatherford. From there, she went to Yale and then over to Ripley.
Pitts said she has seen a lot of changes in the education system since she began teaching 33 years ago.
“It was pretty basic. Back then, Phonics was a dirty word,” Pitts said. “I kind of lived through that whole transpiring and saw a different language approach. We have moved forward from there.”
Pitts, whose background is in English and reading, said it is amazing how far some things have come, including the understanding of Dyslexia in recent years.
“Prior to when I first started, Dyslexia was a broad term and no one really knew how to fix it,” Pitts said. “It was a hard diagnosis. It was just if your kid couldn’t read, you said they had Dyslexia. Now we know there are strategies to help those children.”
The newest round of Dyslexia training was part of a $600,000 grant Pitts was able to get for Ripley titled the Oklahoma Striving Readers. As a part of that, teachers were able to go through some more professional development and the school got some new technology, which every classroom at Ripley now has 25 iPads thanks to the grant and a recent bond.
“We are currently functioning under that which brings a lot of money and technology into our classrooms, which is a godsend honestly,” Pitts said. “We have been able to get professional development that we would have never, ever, ever been able to get here at small Ripley without the grant. It has been fabulous. Our teachers are learning and implementing it and our kids are growing. It is amazing. We are very thankful for that.”
Pitts was happy in her role writing grants and her duties as the Ripley Elementary principal, which she had took up in 2002. It was an administrative position she had never really thought about until former Ripley superintendent Kenny Beams had encouraged her to apply for it.
“He was my inspiration and why I tried because I never really saw myself as an administrator,” Pitts said. “I am glad I did. It has given me a lot of opportunities and given me a voice with the community. I have enjoyed my parents in this community very much, they bring me lots of joy. Here, the problems are pretty minimal, but I have always felt like I have had the parents support. I love these kids. Even when they are naughty, they are fun. We usually can work it out. We have had very minimal problems from parents or children. It has been a great opportunity to serve them. I appreciate them, I really do.”
Pitts enjoyed that role for a long time and had actually started thinking of retiring as the elementary principal just a few years ago. Her longtime secretary Lynda Grimes retired and Pitts, who was having some health problems herself, started thinking of going that route. Beams convinced her to stay on a few more years, which went smoothly until she had to take over the role of superintendent in October.
Beams was forced to resign after being named in an affidavit for soliciting prostitution. Pitts was appointed the task in an interim role through the transition.
“I was satisfied leaving as the elementary principal,” Pitts said. “I certainly never saw any of this coming and never asked for any of this, but I too prayed about it and felt like God opened this up and it was my responsibility to take it and I was going to dig in and do it. I think with any change like that so abruptly, it is hard with anything you do. But I am trying to make good decisions and trying to leave these kids in the hands of really good people and make sure I have done everything I can do to make them better for another 5 or 10 years. … I will work until the day I walk out and make sure it is better for these kids. If I can leave them something, that is still what I want to do.”
With the stressful last few months, Pitts decided that when her contract ends on June 30, it is time to call it a career.
“My body is telling me it is time. When you get older, you kind of understand.” Pitts said. “I have maximized my retirement and my body is ready. I am ready to spend time with my mom. I do have grandkids here who have transferred into the district. I will be back and at their events.”
The Ripley School Board already has taken applications for the new superintendent, which Pitts said they hope to have someone named by Feb. 1. Pitts is looking forward to resting and hanging out with her mom, as well as her two kids and four grandchildren.
Although she will be done as an educator, Pitts is happy to know that she has made an impact on her students’ lives.
“Yesterday I had a kid that I thought probably 10, 15 years ago and he came by the school and the secretary at the elementary called,” Pitts said. “I took off down the hall and got to visit with him. Those are very rewarding for me to see kids who have made it. To know that he thought enough of me to come by the school and ask, ‘Could I see Mrs. Pitts?’ There is nothing like that. Although education doesn’t bring a lot of money, things like that are better than any money amount.”