By: Liza Inbody
Picture Credit: Tulsa World
Students follow a strict schedule and regime in which our education, clothing, and overall decisions are influenced. Our clothing is already, to an extent, determined. The time in which we are required to be August through May is allotted a year prior. The curriculum we are taught during the said time has already been decided. Even the time we set our alarms is affected.
Five days a week, five people make decisions that shape students’ everyday lives. Recently, Jenks had their school board election creating a lot of buzz amongst the community, and rightfully so. This made me wonder, why is a school board election so important, and what role does the school board play in the Jenks community?
What is the school board?
Melissa Abdo is one of the significant members of the school board, and contributes to the decision-making process. Abdo defines the overall function of the school board as “the elected people who represent the community dealings, the vision of the administration, and policies we need to have in place.” In other words, the school board votes on decisions within the district, such as the few mentioned above.
One of these decisions is the hiring of the superintendent. The superintendent plays a major role in the community, as they oversee how the district is run and ensure the continued success of the school.
“When you think of it in business terms the superintendent is like the CEO of the company,” said Abdo.
I was also fortunate enough to speak to Stacey Butterfield, the superintendent of Jenks Public Schools.
“My favorite thing about working with the school board is their genuine love and interest in making this school district the best it can possibly be for our young people,” said Butterfield. “There is an interest in making the tough decisions, investing the time, asking the difficult questions, and pushing on the administration to keep elevating and doing more so that we as a district are at that cutting edge of opportunities for all students at all ages.”
What is the decision-making process?
The decision-making process ultimately revolves around the students and how the school board can best equip them with education and resources. However, this goal may be easier said than done. For example, during the Coronavirus pandemic, the school board was overwhelmed with ideas as to how the school board should make these decisions, specifically during the mask meeting that occurred at the beginning of the year.
“If you were just at that meeting looking around you might think ‘Wow, they are sitting there in a room full of people that don’t want masks’,” said Abdo. “But what you didn’t know was all of the emails we were getting from people that wanted masks or were worried about their health so they weren’t going to come to a big crowded meeting where a lot of people who weren’t wearing masks were sitting.”
Throughout my conversations with Butterfield and Abdo, there was always a common denominator- making decisions that are best for students and that provide educational opportunities to connect students with school. However, once the Covid-19 virus arose, the way decisions were made entirely changed. Certain programs and activities were no longer available to students, making that said connection diminish and differing beliefs divide the community.
“I love the school environment,” said Abdo. “One of my favorite things was that it didn’t matter what political party you are, what religion you are, what race you are- we all want good public schools. So I found it really refreshing that that was something we could all get behind. But then Covid came and with it brought this division in our school community. It was really hard to see people that I knew who were friends arguing and to see our school community that I love divided.”
The community was split in the decision-making of the mask debate. However, this doesn’t necessarily affect how a decision is made, as public favor is considered and made aware of, but is not the driving point when making said decision. When considering the factors of a controversial issue such as the mask debate, members of the school board consider the student’s needs.
“What are we here for? We are here to educate students,” said Abdo. “In the world of covid and the pandemic, how do you keep everyone safe, keep them in school, try to keep consistency with their learning, and keep everybody healthy?”
However, to do this, members cannot merely base their decision on immediate opinions, instead, they may seek out research that was not only important for the masking policies but also the contentious topic of the three-tier late start time.
“We are research-based,” said Abdo. “The district does a wonderful job with all the current evidence and research and factoring in cost. For [the late start times], because it was such a massive shift we had a sleep researcher from TU come in and talk about different things to consider.”
Besides research, the school board and superintendent also listen to public opinion using anonymous issue bins, board meetings, surveys, PTA groups, social media, and communication through phone calls or emails. These resources allow the school board to understand the opinions within the community. However, despite general beliefs, the goal of the board persists whether or not that corresponds with public favor.
”Our board tried to listen to all of the differing opinions and ideas being submitted, and knowing that there is no way of pleasing everyone,” said Butterfield. “And again trying to focus on our philosophy of putting students first and continuous improvement- listening, responding, and changing course as necessary and not getting our feet stuck in concrete to where we were not willing to make changes as we saw needed to be made.”
Nonetheless, disagreements still occur with the sharing of ideas, data, information, and testimonies of controversial subject matters.
“We don’t always have the same opinion, but everyone is really respectful and understands that we don’t all have to agree all of the time,” said Abdo. “I think as a society we have moved away from knowing that it’s okay to disagree and we can all still go on about our life and our business, so I appreciate that about our board members.”
The school board is the foundation of the Jenks community and is the fundamental reason why Jenks has seen so much success and continues to provide educational excellence for students.
“Our school board members are volunteers,” said Butterfield. “They have volunteered for this role because they believe in the future of our students and they are trying to make the decisions possible about the curriculum that we have, the programs, the buildings, etc. And the idea is to create the best possible educational experience for our students while they’re here- all students of all ages.”