On January 23-24, 2023, we hosted our second annual Oklahoma Legislators Retreat in Oklahoma City, OK, in partnership with Retreat co-chairs Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell, State Senators Jessica Garvin and Adam Pugh, and State Representatives Rhonda Baker, Forrest Bennett, Toni Hasenbeck, and Danny Sterling. The Retreat brought leading experts and practitioners together from around the country and Oklahoma to share their knowledge and engage legislators in constructive dialogue about critical education issues facing the Oklahoma education system.
Our retreat kicked off on Monday with a session titled “Supporting Quality and Eliminating Barriers to Workforce Participation.” This session, moderated by our very own Dr. Dan Wuori, Senior Director of Early Learning at The Hunt Institute, discussed some of the barriers to access, implications for children and families, and strategies in helping families access high quality and affordable early educational experiences. Resource experts included Chris Jones, Commissioner for the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services, Justin Brown, Secretary of Human Services at the Office of Governor J. Kevin Stitt, and Brittany Lee, Director of OKDHS Child Care Services. The Honorable Carri Hicks provided opening remarks.
Next up, The Honorable Andy Fugate opened the floor for a session that defined the various methods of school choice and the different qualities associated with each. Damon Gardenhire, Senior Program Officer for the Walton Family Foundation, moderated the session, which allowed legislators to explore policy considerations for related legislation. Resource experts Timothy Abram, Director of Policy at the Charter School Growth Fund, Andrea Castañeda, Chief Innovation Officer for Tulsa Public Schools, and Chris Reynolds, Superintendent of Washington Public Schools, shared their insights into this topic.
Legislators then heard from Dr. Bryan Duke, Interim Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma, and Timothy Hise, Southwest Vice President of TNTP, as they discussed best practices from innovative states around teacher preparation, certification, and support. The discussion included what benefits and challenges exist for teachers and schools regarding National Board certifications, alternative certification programs, and master teaching certificates. Dr. Ashlee Canty, our Director of Equity Initiatives at The Hunt Institute, moderated this session, and The Honorable Danny Sterling provided opening remarks.
Before Day One’s final session, legislators engaged in a small group discussion with leaders in education from across Oklahoma to discuss their experiences and how policymakers can best support them with effective teacher recruitment and retention practices.
During dinner, legislators heard from resource experts for a fireside chat on “Innovation in a Future of Higher Ed Uncertainty.” This conversation discussed the future of workforce transformation and innovation initiatives in the state’s higher education landscape. Monica Basu, Senior Program Officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, moderated the session which featured, Ben Lepak, Executive Director of the Oklahoma State Chamber Research Foundation, Glenne Whisenhunt, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Oklahoma City Community College, and Cassidy Minx, Director of Workforce & Economic Development at the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
Day Two of the retreat began with a visit from Allison Garrett, the Chancellor for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, who gave legislators an overview of Oklahoma’s current higher education priorities.
We then dove into literacy with a conversation featuring Melissa Ahlgrim, Director of Reading Sufficiency at the Oklahoma Department of Education, Kerri Whipple, the Director of Literacy at the South East Education Cooperative, and Dr. Floyd Cobb, Associate Commissioner of Student Learning at the Colorado Department of Education. This session, moderated by our Senior Director of Early Learning Dr. Dan Wuori, discussed the importance of the science of reading, and how teacher preparation programs and professional development that use evidence-based literacy practices can help students gain proficiency in reading. The Honorable Rhonda Baker provided opening remarks.
Next up, The Honorable Jessica Garvin opened the floor for Katrina Miller, the Director of Educational Partnerships at SAS, to moderate a conversation on learning loss recovery in Oklahoma. In this session, legislators heard from Joe Dorman, Chief Executive Officer of the The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and Diana Cournoyer, Executive Director of the National Indian Education Association, who discussed the pandemic’s impact on learning, interventions districts could implement to accelerate learning, and the role the legislature could play in those efforts.
For the Retreat’s final session, Linda Manaugh, Interim President & CEO of the Potts Family Foundation moderated a conversation with Jolynn Horn, Assistant Vice Chancellor of GEAR UP at Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and Dr. Monte Randall, President of the College of the Muscogee Nation. This panel discussed how Oklahoma can increase enrollment, support students who are in postsecondary institutions, and ensure that Oklahoma is on target to reach its postsecondary attainment goal.
To close out the 2023 Oklahoma Legislators Retreat, The Honorable Adam Pugh provided closing remarks. Special thanks to the policymakers who took time to engage with these critical conversations, the resource experts for sharing their insights, and to our Hunt staff for making this program possible. We can’t wait to see where these conversations lead Oklahoma in the future of their #Education system.