Dean of the OU Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education Gregg Garn spoke about "Strengthening Schools and Communities" to Sooner Rotary at our breakfast meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2017. The Iowa native focused on how local leaders need to connect to schools to the benefit of the entire community. He noted that starting teachers are offered $50,000 salaries in Plano, Texas, while the top salary is $46,000 for teachers with doctorates in the Oklahoma state schedule.  He reminded us that teaching is a profession, not a service; and that communities are going to have to supplement state funding to keep teachers, must like local towns did a hundred years ago with one-room schoolhouses. Several options are proving successful elsewhere. Often the solutions are tied to keeping teachers in a community for a certain period of time so they are established and less likely to leave, Garn said.  
  • One option is to set up a program to cover the education loans of teachers who teach a defined amount of years in the local school district. (Learn more at OU Debt-Free Teachers Program.)  
  • Another is merit pay for teachers who invest in additional training and education. Several years ago Oklahoma agreed to pay teachers who achieved National Board Certification a $5,000 a year bonus, a promise it no longer keeps.
  • Garn said one of the major problems facing teachers and schools is the basic needs of students are not being met when they arrive at school, so they are unable to learn from even the best teachers. He talked about a Tulsa study that shows "community schools" bring professionals to students and their families to close this gap to learning and benefit the community as a whole. He recommends a community start at the elementary level in lower income areas, and then once they gain traction, move to middle or high schools.
  • Another option is a program Garn said he is coordinating with Norman's Republic Bank so that teachers receive a down payment match to be able to afford a house in the community where they teach.  This builds roots and wealth for full-time teachers, some of whom receive such low pay that they cannot afford to buy a house and their families participate in government assistance programs to make ends meet. 
According to Garn about 100 schools in Oklahoma have gone to a four-day school week which doesn't bode well for preparing our youth for work, post-secondary education and citizenship. He noted that South Dakota and Mississippi are behind Oklahoma on total compensation for teachers, but that Oklahoma ranks last in the nation for teacher salaries.  He's particularly worried about smaller communities in the state that don't have the community leadership and resources like Norman to implement programs to retain teachers and strengthen education in their schools. He left the club with a strong statement that zip codes shouldn't determine destiny.