BENNINGTON — The scene was a teacher convention in Oklahoma City in the early 1980s. An Oklahoma Education Association speaker had just announced that the OEA was affiliating with the National Education Association, the leading national teacher organization at the time.
Jim Smith, a science and history teacher then and a retired school superintendent now, was there and at the announcement, he says, “several hundred teachers left the hall and the OEA.”
Olan Isbell, a Southeastern Oklahoma State University graduate, was there, too. Although the walkout didn’t prompt immediate action, Isbell began to be convinced that Oklahoma teachers needed a non-union alternative to the OEA. In 1988 Isbell, then the Bennington schools superintendent, founded the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators. A ceremony Thursday at Bennington High School drew students, teachers and supporters to honor Isbell and mark the POE’s 25th. anniversary. The POE has grown from his first three recruits to almost 10,000 teachers and administrators in 91 chapters this year, with a staff of about 25 at its Noble, Okla., headquarters. The Bennington chapter has about 30 members.
The centerpiece of the ceremony was the unveiling of a plaque with a picture of Isbell, noting his long service to the school district and the founding of the POE.
Ginger Tinney, executive director of POE for the past 18 years, spoke briefly, stressing Isbell’s unswerving dedication to the interests of the children he served, beginning first as a math teacher (reflected, she said, in the detail and accuracy of any paperwork he did). He later was a superintendent at several schools, including Crawford, Copan and Caddo districts, before his 10 years in the Bennington district. He retired in 1992 and four years later died at age 63 in Caddo. His wife Alta died in 2000.
The POE serves its members in many ways, Tinney said. It provides insurance for its members and legal assistance along with several workshops a year at schools across the state. The workshops are held only when requested by a local chapter, such as the Bennington chapter, and cover a wide variety of topics and interests, such as a recent session on bullying.
Smith, a member of the POE board of directors, said the board meets monthly and discusses wide-ranging educational and administrative issues, but does not, he emphasized, get involved in any teacher negotiations. There has been considerable discussion, he said, of the newly implemented Common Core curriculum. He said he likes the emphasis on writing and critical thinking that’s a central part of the Core philosophy, but expressed concern about the impact of federal involvement with the Core. He acknowledged that teachers from across the country developed the Common Core curriculum, but remains leery of the possibility of increasing federal control at the expense of local school-board control.
Several Bennington teachers and students were brought to the meeting and joined in the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. The school chorus then sang the National Anthem and the gathering ended with cupcakes and punch for all.