Oklahoma

Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

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Emily Wendler

Emily Wendler joined KOSU in February 2015, following graduate school at the University of Montana. While studying Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism with an emphasis on agriculture, a professor introduced her to radio and she fell in love. The Cincinnati native has since reported for KBGA, University of Montana’s college radio station, and Montana’s PBS Newsbrief. She was a finalist in a national in-depth radio reporting competition for an investigatory piece she produced on campus rape. She also produced in-depth reports on wind energy and local food for Montana Public Radio.

  • Email: emily@kosu.org

Research on Tulsa Program Suggests Statewide Pre-K Has Long-Term Benefits

Preschool teacher, Irene Castell, works on counting with a small group of students.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Preschool teacher, Irene Castell, works on counting with a small group of kids.

Kids are scattered around the preschool classroom at Zarrow International School in Tulsa. It’s loud and chaotic, but it’s organized. Some students paint pictures; others write out the letters of the alphabet. The small group sitting around teacher Irene Castell is learning to count and compare numbers.

Castell says many kids would not learn these skills if they stayed home, or went to daycare.

“We always hear back from teachers of kindergartners, ‘We can always tell who’s been to pre-K,’” she says.

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Parents Still Fighting To Remove Humphreys From School Board

John Rex Elementary in  downtown Oklahoma City.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

John Rex Elementary in downtown Oklahoma City.


A group of about 20 parents asked Oklahoma City Public School Board members on Monday to kick former OKC Mayor Kirk Humphreys off the board of a local charter school.

Humphreys recently equated homosexuality to pedophilia while on a Sunday morning talk show, and many John Rex Charter School parents feel his comments were homophobic, and disqualify him from serving on the charter’s board of directors.

Jaricha Scales says his words go directly against the charter school’s creed her children are supposed to follow.

“How can we hold our students accountable, and not our board members?,” Scales asked during public comment.

Spokesperson for OKCPS, Beth Harrison, says while the district does authorize the charter contract for John Rex, its board has very little influence over whether Humphreys stays or goes. Harrison says that decision would be up to the John Rex Board of Directors.

Carrie Jacobs, who is on John Rex’s Board, says discussions are ongoing about what, if anything, should happen.

Q&A: A Look Ahead At The Stories StateImpact Is Following Into The New Year

StateImpact reporters preview the key health, education, energy and environment issues they'll be tracking in 2018.

StateImpact Oklahoma

StateImpact reporters preview the key health, education, energy and environment issues they'll be tracking in 2018.

Twenty-seventeen is wrapping up, but the growing group of reporters at StateImpact are following many important government policy issues that will carry on into the new year.

Senior Reporter and Managing Editor Joe Wertz brought the StateImpact team into the studio for a preview of their coverage in the year to come. Here are some excerpts from the conversation edited for clarity:

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As Students’ Mental Health Needs Grow, Schools Find Counselors Have Little Time For Counseling

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And The Rest/Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

When Moore Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines asked some of his high school students what the district could do better, they told him they needed more help with mental health.

“I was a bit shocked,” Romines says.

More and more of Oklahoma’s teenagers are dealing with mental illness, and the increase has caught a few school administrators off guard.

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Governor Pushes For Consolidation, But School Leaders Say ‘Administration’ Isn’t Waste

Robert Romines is the Superintendent of Moore Public Schools. He says many administrators are very involved with classroom instruction on a day-to-day basis.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Robert Romines is the Superintendent of Moore Public Schools. He says many administrators are very involved with classroom instruction on a day-to-day basis.

Education leaders in Oklahoma say Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive order on school consolidation oversimplified a very complicated issue.

The November 21 order directs school districts that don’t spend at least 60 percent of their budget on instruction to consolidate administrative staff with other districts. A strict interpretation of this rule would force most Oklahoma school districts to cut an administrator, or a support staff person, and then find a way to split that cost with a neighboring district.

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One Idea To Help Fund Oklahoma Schools: Take From The Rich And Give To The Rest

Calumet Public Schools Superintendent Keith Weldon stands in a  garage, that he recently turned into space for an agriculture program. Weldon worries if lawmakers take some of his local funding, he would have to scale back the popular program.

Calumet Public Schools Superintendent Keith Weldon stands in an old garage that he now uses for an agriculture program. Weldon worries if lawmakers take some of his local funding, he would have to scale back the popular program.

The wind blows strong and steady in Calumet, a small town about 40 miles west of Oklahoma City.

It’s the wind that’s prompted companies to build turbines here. A natural gas company also built a plant nearby.

In northeastern Oklahoma, Google built a large data center in Pryor. And the city of Cushing is flanked by fields of large steel tanks that hold millions of barrels of oil.

These industries bring in abundant property tax revenue for nearby schools — enough that 37 districts don’t receive any funding from the state.

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What Do Monkey Bars and Test Scores Have In Common? More Than You Might Think

Fourth graders at Chattanooga Elementary School play during recess.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Fourth graders at Chattanooga Elementary School play during recess.

On the playground at Chattanooga Elementary School some kids are pretending to be pirates, a few boys are climbing on a baseball dugout, and another group is belting out the words to various pop songs as they wriggle across the monkey bars.

This is the students’ third 15-minute recess of the day, and they’ll get one more before the end of the school day in the tiny southwestern Oklahoma town of about 450.

Added up: That’s an hour of recess a day — double what these kids got two years ago, and double what most kids in America get.

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Education Leaders Say Drop in State Test Scores Due to Tougher Grading System, Not Poor Performance

Soon-to-be-released statewide test scores are expected to be much lower than they were in the past, but top education officials say the drop is due to a more difficult grading system, not poor-performing students.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister says the state has a new way of measuring student proficiency.

“This has been a time of recalibrating,” she said in an interview after a press conference held with reporters to explain the declining scores.

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How Controversy And Current Events Become Critical Curriculum In Some Oklahoma Classrooms

Students at Luther High School watch Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" before a class discussion.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Students at Luther High School watch Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" before a class discussion.

Polls suggest this is one of the the most politically divided moments in American history. There are now tip sheets on how to survive Thanksgiving without disowning your family, and the comment sections of online news articles are full of vitriol.

Schools are not immune to the tension, but not everyone thinks that’s a bad thing.

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New Law Gives Oklahoma More Responsibility In Finding And Fixing Failing Schools

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Oklahoma State Department of Education

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister

Many people say the former massive federal education law, No Child Left Behind, was a failure. When President George W. Bush signed it in 2002, he set a huge goal for the country: Every child would meet the proficiency standard on state tests by 2014.

But, that never happened.

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