Superintendent suspended for poverty quotes

Oklahoma’s new A-F report card for schools closely tracks the poverty rate, reports the Daily Oklahoman. However, the one-school Ryal district — all low-income, mostly Native American, 40 percent in special ed — earned a B.

Now Superintendent Scott Trower, who turned around a school ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, has been suspended by the school board. He talked too vividly about Ryal families’ multi-generational poverty in an Oklahoman story on how Ryal is teaching very disadvantaged students.

“Sometimes students climb onto the school bus wearing socks but no shoes, even in the wintertime,” the story starts.

(Trower) drives down into the Ryal Bottoms, a floodplain of the North Canadian River where many students live.

A maze of dirt roads is lined by tangled barbed wire and gnarly scrub oaks.

“Meth and alcoholism rule down here,” Trower said.

Some students live in prefabricated sheds without electricity, plumbing or heat, said Trower, who was hired in May, 2011. Many parents don’t work. Some parents don’t see the need for their children to go to high school.

“They’re going to go home tonight and it’s going to be freezing cold,” Trower said. “They won’t eat until they come back to school the next day. And we expect them to score proficient or higher on state tests? It’s survival. It’s just basic survival.”

At the K-8 school, which serves about 70 students, each student has a personal learning plan. Students feel cared for, Trower told the newspaper.

Teachers pick students up in the mornings and take them home at night. They feed the kids, buy them clothes.

Trower got grants to buy iPads for each student, which has helped teachers personalize learning.

In the kindergarten class, students sat with headphones on, listening to phonics sounds and picking out letters and words on a screen.

Last year, the average student was two grade levels behind in reading. Now, most have caught up, reports the Oklahoman.  “Kids will rise to the expectations,” Trower said.

Locals say students have shoes and most live in homes with electricity, writes John Thompson on This Week in Education. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has called on Trower to resign.

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  1. How stupid! He turned a low performing school around and kids are succeeding. So what if he exaggerated their socio-economic status?

  2. palisadesk says:

    I taught in a school and community *very* similar to this, but also lacking in resources at the school to help the kids succeed (no library, no video or AV or technology, no art materials, no music…). Many students did not have running water or electricity.

    One thing this article doesn’t mention, but is for certain an issue in this community and others like it, is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. There is limited research or information for teachers on how to mitigate its effects. It often affects cognitive ability (it is now the leading cause of ‘mental retardation’), but its most serious sequelae are in behavior and social interactions, with lifelong consequences.

    • Fatima Ibrahim says:

      I think this is a serious issue that has evolved into something much greater than economic recessions or foreign issues within the political world. Our future begins with teaching the youth, but without the necessary resources they may fail to reach their ultimate expectations. Unfortunately, it appears that the poverty status of these helpless children is an ongoing cycle, and unless the government interferes, there may never be an end to it. If these children are mainly focused on how to survive and where their next meal is coming from, then it is evident that they will fail to receive proficient scores when it comes to standardized testing. I don’t see why the superintendent was forced to resign, it appears that he was simply stating factual evidence that he has witnessed himself. Although not every student may be living in unfit conditions, there may be some that can’t even afford a pair of shoes. He seems to be thinking more realistically rather than brush away and ignore the lifestyle of these students.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    He was either lying, mistaken, or telling the truth.

    I wonder which it is.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      He was exaggerating. While insentitive and a bit messianic, not a reason to suspend or terminate him. The school and kids will suffer because both the school board/community and the superintendent are basically indisceet. He placed his own need to ego stroke above the kids needs, and the community will place tribe pride over their own kids needs as well. Too bad. Human stupidity.

    • Peace Corps says:

      I can’t know this of course, but it seems to me that he is telling the truth for some of his students. My school district’s families are certainly better off, on average, than his school district, yet there are students that don’t have have coats, proper shirts, shoes or pants. I have had students that don’t have a home because their mother’s boyfriend kicked them out. This story just doesn’t seem to be too far off to be believed for me.

      Anyway, the reporter should have questioned anything that didn’t seem right before publishing the story. It was her job to follow up on any exaggerations on the superintendents part.

    • cranberry says:

      I suspect his interview hurt the community’s self-esteem.

      In a later article on the Daily Oklahoman site, a school board member states, “The vast majority of our kids live in houses with electricity. They do have shoes. Their parents do work. Lots of our students go on to be schoolteachers, doctors, lawyers and professionals.”

      “Vast majority” is not “all.” So, there are students who do not have electricity. Some may not have shoes. In our state (not Oklahoma), I think you’d run a risk of losing custody of your children if your home had no electricity.

      According to the 2010 census, almost 46% of the families with children under 18 in Henryetta City are single-parent families.

      I can’t explain why a small town, Henryetta City, has two elementary schools, about a mile apart. I do find such a fast turnaround in test scores in a very small school to be, ah, remarkable.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        It might be unfair to suggest it, but the test scores combined with the attention seeking via the media spiked my BS detector.

        It’s probably my own bias, but a superintendent capable of improving scores at such a pace should be smart enough to speak with the media without insulting a significant portion of the population he serves. Maybe, maybe not.