Oklahoma Schools: Making the Grade

By: Steven Powell Email
By: Steven Powell Email

In 2008, the Farris community in Atoka County almost lost their school. The school lacked money and enrollment, and teetered on the verge of a shut down.

Parents credit Superintendent Wes Watson with saving the school. But four years later, Farris is flirting with closure.

Last week, Oklahoma released the first ever report card grading system. It gives schools a grade of "A - F." The criteria used are student achievement, overall student growth, bottom 25 percent growth and whole school performance.

Watson said he doesn't understand why Farris received an "F." Especially since the school earned a 3.01 GPA. He sent the state an appeal, but he's still waiting for the reasoning behind the grade.

"How could you have signed that unless you had something to base it upon?" he said.

Joyce Gibson said her kids went to Farris - and now she has three grandkids there. She doesn't want to lose their school.

"I think it's unfair," she said. "All of the students have improved since last year, and have done better on their test scores."

Earlier this year, Farris tried to annex with Antlers Public Schools. Watson said Antlers rejected the deal.

He said the community differed on the issue.

Nadie Thomas disagreed with a move to Antlers.

"If I was gonna move my kids or grandkids, it would be to Atoka," she said.

But Watson said getting an "F" scares many parents.

"I do know that there is a stigma with this," Watson said. "Even if it is overturned, there is a stigma."

Farris was the only Texoma school to receive an "F." Most schools got "B's" and "C's," but a handful earned an "A," like Coalgate High School. Principal John Plunkett attributes it to a great staff, and a middle school that he said prepares students for the next level."

"There's always room for improvement, but yeah, we're proud of it. And I'm proud of my staff," Plunkett said.

The school earned "A's" on three out of four core subjects tested, he said. He also pointed to a high graduation rate.

But he said the new challenge is to keep the "A" rating.

"Keep pushing forward," he said. "Never set back. Once you get complacent, then you start slipping."

But the new grading system is in its pilot year. And schools are still adjusting.

Jason Simeroth, Durant ISD superintendent, said he likes the user-friendly "A - F" system. But he said local administrators need input.

"Our issues lie with the fact that we have not been involved in the process of how these calculations are made, the things that go into determining these grades," he said.

Robert E. Lee Elementary in Durant received a "C." The rest of the schools earned a "B."

Simeroth said Robert E. Lee has a smaller enrollment, making it easier to lower the overall average score.

"They were two-tenths of a point away from a "B." That's one kid on one test," he said.

Simeroth considers Robert E. Lee a "B" school. And he feels the rest are where they should be for now - but not where he wants them to stay.

"Is a "B" good? Absolutely. Is it where we're gonna stop? No." he said. "It's good, and we're happy with it, but we're not finished."

Watson turned in his resignation at Farris. He said the pressure is creating health issues.

"I've given five years of my life. I have done nothing but good for the community."

And he said it's the community that's going to have to save it.

Gibson agrees.

"All these parents that have sent their kids other places. All you have to do to save this school, is get your kids back in this school," she said.

See your school's grade below

Atoka County
Bryan County
Carter County
Choctaw County
Coal County
Garvin County
Johnston County
Love County
Marshall County
Murray County
Pontotoc County
Pushmataha County
Stephens County

-Information from the Okla. State Board of Education


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