Durant school superintendent Duane Merideth, new on the job, says it’s an “interesting time” to take over as the Legislature fights with Gov. Mary Fallin over loosening reading requirements for third grade students and eliminating the state’s Common Core curriculum.
Legislators voted to relax a requirement that third graders read at least at a second grade level to be promoted to fourth grade. The bill establishes in-school committees, including parents, to determine if students who did poorly on the one key test should be promoted or held back for a year. The governor vetoed the bill last week but the legislators then voted to override the veto and the bill now is the law. Fallin hasn’t acted yet on a bill that would repeal the Common Core and force public schools to revert to the PASS standards that took effect in 2010. Fallin, state schools superintendent Janet Barresi and many educators around the state oppose the repeal but Fallin is not being hasty. A statement from Fallin’s office said she is “carefully reviewing the language in HB3399. She is taking several days to meet with parents and educators to discuss how the bill would affect Oklahoma children and Oklahoma schools. She expects to act on the bill” this coming week. Fallin has until June 7 to pick one of three choices — sign the bill or veto it, or take no action, a so-called pocket veto. If she does not act on it, the bill is dead until the next legislative session, which begins next February, well after this fall’s gubernatorial election.
Supt. Merideth said he’d prefer that she veto the bill now but added, “We’re prepared for whatever happens.” He said he supports three organizations of educators who have called on Fallin to veto the bill.
He doesn’t believe that killing the Common Core would have a great impact on classrooms. “We have terrific teachers,” he said. They say, in essence, “we’ll meet whatever objectives are laid out.” He indicated that some elements of the Common Core wlil be retained, particularly the emphasis on writing across the curriculum, which will be a classroom staple. Another point of emphasis, fostering critical thinking, is important, he said, adding that’s not new to the district.
Durant third graders did better on the state-wide reading test given last month than students in many area schools, he said. About 75 percent of the students achieved a “satisfactory” rating — higher when scores of special needs students were separated out. All students who did not achieve a satisfactory rating will attend either the district’s regular summer school sessions or the Reading Academy, where the intense focus is on reading. Administrators in many districts have contended that implementing the Common Core was costly and reverting to the previous standards will mean additional expenses. Merideth said that’s the case in Durant, too. He noted that the district “spent a lot of money the past three years” on training to meet Common Core requirements, but said that much of what was done will apply to whatever standards are finally put in place. The district has also been expanding facilities — two new classrooms each at Washington Irving and Northwest Heights elementary schools to meet rising student enrollments. Bids are out now on a multi-purpose building for the high school that will be especially useful for band work and athletics.
One staffing change in the works is the creation of two curriculum director positions, one for K-6 programs and the other for grades seven through 12. Assistant Superintendent Larry Scott, who has just retired, had been handling both responsibilities.
Merideth this spring succeeded Dr. Jason Simeroth as superintendent. Merideth has been a school administrator for 21 years, most of the last 14 as assistant superintendent for Durant ISD. Simeroth left to become superintendent of the Yukon school district in northeastern Oklahoma.