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Education Professionals Vie for State Superintendent Democratic Nomination


Starting this January, a new person takes charge of every public school in Oklahoma and an education system which appears to be in limbo.

The new state superintendent will manage a department tasked with creating new statewide school standards after common core was repealed.

He or she also faces a two year hiatus on Third grade reading retention and a controversial A through F school grading program.

KOSU’s Michael Cross reports two Democrats still desperately want your vote for the job in the upcoming runoff.

On August 26th, Democrats across the state are choosing their candidate for State Superintendent.

Freda Deskin of Edmond and John Cox of Peggs both have a history of running school districts in Oklahoma.

Now, they want to take charge of an Education Department with an uncertain future.

Deskin says the agency faces a scenario where a new superintendent will help draw up new school standards because of the repeal of Common Core.

“We can’t complain about what is or what was. We’ve got to start from day one and go forward and create the future and the standards that are appropriate and high enough for the state, but that are also realistic.”

But, that’s not the only challenge for a new superintendent

Cox points to high stakes testing, End of Instruction exams and third grade reading retention as examples of legislation which removed local control of students.

“It’s not simple just to say retain every child that fails a test, because you have to look at the individual. I think we’ve gotten far away from looking at individuals and thinking that everybody should be in this cookie cutter approach to education that everybody’s the same and we’re just not.”

Despite similarities between the two candidates in education experience there are also differences.

Doctor Cox has 28-years of experience in education, including 20 years as a School Superintendent in the rural northeastern town of Peggs.

But, Doctor Deskin’s career includes working as a teacher and superintendent in rural and urban environments and even as a dean at Oklahoma City University.

“We are a very diverse state, and it’s going to take a superintendent that understands the differences and the commonalities between and among different sizes of schools.”

Deskin’s diverse history also draws criticism from Cox.

“For the last 14, 15 years she has been a person who has operated a charter school and actually created that charter school. And, although there is a place for charter schools in Oklahoma, I just truly believe that the 95% of our kids that go to public schools should be the ones that are promote and advocated for.”

Deskin takes pride in creating the Advanced Science and Technology Education Charter School also known as ASTEC.

She says the children who attend are 100% below the poverty level and have a 94% graduation rate.

Deskin supports inner city charter schools, but not for rural Oklahoma.

“I am opposed to the expansion of charters into rural areas only because I know the economic facts about it, number one, and number two, I know that the groups from outside of the state that want to come in are not doing it for the sake of children but for the sake of profit.”

Both candidates agree the election to replace Janet Barresi is the most important this year as no one knows what to expect with the shakeup in leadership at the State Department of Education.

Still, Doctor Cox says Oklahoma still has the best educators and a bright future ahead despite the coming changes.

“I think a third grade teacher knows what has to be taught during third grade, so I think it’s pretty powerful to say that we can go in, we can build something and really unify all Oklahoma to say that this is the curriculum that we want to use.”

During the primary, Cox received 41% with Deskin getting 38%.

Only about 4,500 votes separated the two.

The winner of Tuesday’s election faces Republican Joy Hofmeister who soundly defeated incumbent Superintendent Janet Barresi in June’s primary.

Michael Cross is the host of KOSU's Morning Edition.
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