I love the Olympics – the pageantry; the stories of athletes who have worked much of their lives to achieve this ultimate test of their skills; "The Star Spangled Banner” playing as the United State’s best stand atop the podium sporting their gold medals; the camera capturing the tears and the joy on the faces of their friends and family; the pride and the unity we all feel as these athletes represent the county we love.
I want those same experiences for our students and the educators and parents who daily work to help them achieve their fullest potential. We need to be giving out gold medals to these people, and we plan to – at least something of equivalent value.
Several weeks ago, I got to announce the 12 finalists for the 2013 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. These educators each have that spark, that drive, that energy that will help each of their students succeed – not just in school, but in life. In September, one of these teachers will be selected to represent the state as the Teacher of the Year. As in the past, we expect that many community partners will shower this person with gifts and cash, and they will have the state’s recognition and admiration – a gold medal, if you will.
During the July 26 State Board of Education meeting I got to congratulate Jonathan Crider, a recent graduate from Central High School in Marlow. Jonathan was one of 102 students nationwide to be awarded this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Jonathan raised more than $45,000 to help feed hungry children in this state. Boy, if that doesn’t deserve a gold medal.
Also at Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting, board members heard a report on statewide results from Oklahoma’s core curriculum and end-of-instruction tests. The news is heartening. Passing scores in Algebra II, for instance, have jumped 21 percent over the past four years. Passing scores in Algebra I, Geometry, and English II also showed noteworthy gains in that time period. I’d like to congratulate each teacher and educator across the state, as well as the parents who helped their children, and the students who took these tests. Some of these gains are terrific. I’m very proud.
Later this fall we will be talking about some significant grant awards to our Reward Schools. These schools are the ones identified as being the highest achieving in the state. I can’t wait to give out those “gold medals.”
Let me be clear here. I’m not just talking about rewarding student achievement. I’m talking about rewarding work that will give each student the best opportunity to enjoy success in life. We’re giving students tools to use in college, the work force, the military and to be successful community members, people who make a difference in the lives of all those around them.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I encourage each of us to continually strive for excellence in academics. It is in such work that we will achieve riches far greater than gold.