October 1, 2014

Neu, Lora Discuss Their Plans For Improving Oklahoma City Schools

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Saying Oklahoma City public schools need to improve student achievement, strengthen academic standards and end its endless teacher shortage is one thing, but two new employees detailed their plans to do just that on Tuesday.

Superintendent Rob Neu and Associate Superintendent of Student Achievement and Accountability Aurora Lora outlined their goals and fielded questions from parents and teachers during an Oklahoma Watch-Out public forum at Kamps 1910 Café in Oklahoma City.

Neu served as superintendent of schools in Federal Way, Washington, a Seattle-area district with 23,000 students, before coming to Oklahoma City. Lora was previous in Dallas, where she worked as an assistant superintendent.

FINDING THE RIGHT PIECES

For Neu, the most important puzzle piece for improving Oklahoma City schools is ending the teacher shortage and finding the best teacher for each classroom.

Neu said the district needs to continue looking for teachers outside the continental United States who speak multiple languages and better reflect the district’s own ethnic and cultural diversity.

The district hired teachers from Spain for the current school year, and is also looking to hire teachers from Puerto Rico.

The district also needs to go to states like Wisconsin or Michigan that have great education programs, but not enough jobs for graduates, Neu said.

That includes finding ways to help new teachers relocate to Oklahoma. It also means finding ways to increase pay, which includes creating partnerships and raising money from private organizations in Oklahoma City.

Recruiting needs to be a yearlong effort, he added.

“This is one of those issues I said about raising expectations,” Neu said. “For what ever reason, we’ve come to accept vacancies every year.”

For Lora, having a strong teaching corps also means finding and training great principals.

Changes in education policy have pushed principals from focusing on running a building to focusing on helping teachers succeed, but the district has failed to support principals in their new role, Lora said.

The district is changing that now.
“We are teaching principals how to be strong instructional leaders,” Lora said. “Our job is to help make sure they have they skills they need to help move student achievement.”

Giving principals the tools they need to help teachers develop professionally means removing other bureaucratic duties, Neu said. That includes tasking district administration with school-level hiring duties instead of principals.

“Our principals are doing too many things the central office should be doing for them,” he said. “In my opinion we need to take some things off their plate… when that happens, I think we are going to see some amazing results in our community.”