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'I feel like the town would go away, too': Webbers Falls volunteers work to put classrooms together after historic May flood

WEBBERS FALLS — A sheen of perspiration formed on Dana Crumpler’s skin while she sorted through books in an old, deserted general store.

Full sets of “The Outsiders,” “The Odyssey” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” were among the stacks of classroom resources stored there. Crumpler and Jayme Trennepohl, both English teachers at Webbers Falls Public Schools, looked over the resources they have for teaching after a flood swamped the school — and the town, also causing significant damage to the police station, post office, multiple businesses and about 160 of the town’s approximately 200 houses — in May.

Meanwhile, a trio of students behind the teachers worked out how to move a large desk without scratching it, and their colleagues staked claims on filing cabinets and desks.

“If the school were to go away, I feel like the town would go away, too,” Crumpler said. “Warrior roots run deep.”

The flood was insidious. As the buildings stood in the floodwaters, muck and grime seeped through wood, drywall, insulation, science equipment, kitchen appliances and books. In June, school officials estimated that renovations and repairs would cost up to $3 million.

The upcoming school year for the Webbers Falls Warriors is slated to start Sept. 3.

“Friday we start preenrollment,” Principal Lisa Ward said Tuesday. “We are working against the clock.”

They have until then to “get the place looking like a school again,” she said.

Since the floodwaters receded in late May, the Webbers Falls campus has transitioned from a mess of muck to a gutted shell to interiors that appear distinctly institutional.

The gymnasium floor and every wooden door in the school were torn up and thrown out. Students volunteered to scrape away muck from walls. Heating and air units had to be replaced, and science rooms and kitchens had to be gutted of almost all their equipment.

Teachers and administrators have not yet had a full opportunity to take inventory, but Ward said she knows they will need graphing and scientific calculators.

“That’s why these couple of days, this week, are very crucial to find out what we do and do not have,” she said.

School officials and volunteers have made trips to Krebs, Haileyville, Muskogee and Tulsa to pick up donated supplies. Teachers from Broken Arrow to Weatherford — across the state in western Oklahoma — boxed up what they could for Webbers Falls teachers.

“They’re sharing their own classroom resources and school supplies,” Ward said. “They box them up, and they bring them down here.”

The upcoming school year will be Crumpler’s first year to teach high school English. Before switching to the higher grades, she was teaching middle school students.

Before she and other teachers could put serious work into their classrooms, all of the classroom resources available had to be moved out of storage and into the school. Students, parents, teachers and community volunteers worked throughout Tuesday to move furniture, books, teaching aids and other resources from storage to the school.

Tables, bookshelves, chairs, desks and sets of books were stacked inside classrooms without apparent order.

Floor trim still needed to be put in; computer network cables needed to be run; and a slew of donated materials and resources needed to be unpacked.

John Hicks, a Webbers Falls bus driver and special education teacher, said people “pitch in where you can” because of just how small the school is. Last school year, it had 290 students from preschool through 12th grade.

Tulsa, Union, Broken Arrow public school students return to class Wednesday

Although thousands of local students already returned to class for the new school year, the three largest districts in northeast Oklahoma will open their doors Wednesday.

Wednesday is the first day of school for the Tulsa, Broken Arrow and Union public school districts. Students at Owasso Public Schools return from summer break Thursday.

Some suburban districts, including Jenks and Sand Springs, started the 2019-20 school year Tuesday. Others welcomed kids back Monday and last week.

Parents can expect to see a few major changes from last year within Tulsa Public Schools. The most notable, perhaps, is the expansion of Monroe Demonstration Academy, which has become the destination for all middle-schoolers in north Tulsa’s McLain feeder pattern.

Monroe’s enrollment is estimated to increase from 250 to about 950 students. The expansion resulted in the closure of the McLain 7th Grade Academy, McLain Junior High and Penn Elementary. Additionally, all elementary schools in the feeder pattern no longer serve sixth grade.

Another change affecting the McLain feeder pattern involves the consolidation of Gilcrease Elementary and ECDC-Bunche. The combined school will serve students from prekindergarten through fifth grade under the name John Hope Franklin Elementary.

Tulsa Beyond also will become reality at three TPS high schools. Webster, Hale and Tulsa Learning Academy are launching pilot phases of Tulsa Beyond — the district’s expansive project aimed at re-imaging the high school experience — after design teams spent over a year creating personalized school models for each site.

At Union Public Schools, the new Ellen Ochoa Elementary has doubled in size this year. The partially completed school opened to 500 students in 2017 as a way to reduce crowding at other elementaries.

The district is opening the second half of Ochoa, which was built at 12000 E. 31st St., with its full complement of 1,000 students Wednesday. A redistricting initiative approved in March sent about 270 students from three selected elementary schools — Boevers, Roy Clark and Rosa Parks — to Ochoa.

Meanwhile, the recent cyber attack that targeted Broken Arrow Public Schools’ computer network is not expected to affect students or parents as the year begins, district spokesman Charlie Hannema said.

Hannema confirmed earlier this month the district fell victim to a ransomware attack, which seeks to deny access to computer systems or networks or hold data hostage for ransom. Officials reportedly were not aware of any unauthorized disclosure of student personal data or financial information.

On Tuesday, Hannema said the attack required some technical workarounds but noted there should be no problems on the first day outside of the typical hiccups that districts sometimes experience.

“There’s always a chance for something to go sideways,” he said.

Oklahoma still short hundreds of teachers after pay raise, survey finds, despite improved hiring

Public schools in Oklahoma are starting the new academic year with nearly 600 teaching vacancies, but many more districts are adding new positions, a new statewide survey has found.

The sixth annual survey to gauge the extent of the state’s teacher shortage by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association was completed by 305 districts that serve nearly 81% of all public school students.

The share of school district leaders who described the teacher hiring environment as worse than the prior year dropped to 38%, its lowest point since the Oklahoma State School Boards Association first asked the question in 2015 when 75% answered yes.

“The survey shows the historic investment in teacher pay is beginning to put a dent in the teacher shortage. The overall hiring of more teachers is an especially encouraging sign, but it’s also obvious the teacher pipeline is weak,” said OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime. “The teacher shortage crisis is not over.”

Respondents in 145 districts reported that they would be adding a total of 599 new teaching positions, while those in 57 districts reported plans to reduce staffing by eliminating 207 total teaching positions.

Nearly half of the all vacancies reported are in districts that added teaching positions for the 2019-20 academic year.

But the numbers of vacancies also don’t take into account one of the greatest indicators of Oklahoma’s ongoing statewide teacher shortage — school districts’ ever-growing reliance on new hires who have not yet completed the state’s requirements for either a traditional or alternative certification.

Oklahoma public schools hired 3,038 of these nonaccredited teachers through emergency certification from the state Board of Education to work in classrooms in 2018-19, representing a 54% increase over the previous school year’s 1,975.

By comparison, just 32 emergency teaching certificates were approved by the state in a single year in 2011-12.

Of the districts that participated in the latest OSSBA survey, 68% said they anticipate needing to seek emergency teaching certificates, a six-year high, while other stop-gap measures will be employed, as well, including hiring retired teachers and part-time adjunct instructors.

Lawmakers approved $133.6 million in new state money for education this year, including the $1,220 across-the-board teacher raise that was a priority of state leaders.

“Schools are lowering class sizes, expanding student support services, and investing in the classroom. All of these improvements will benefit students and are evidence we’re moving in the right direction,” Hime said.

But even with the additional state funding, Hime said Oklahoma remains last in the region when it comes to per-student spending.

“State leaders deserve thanks for directing more support to schools, but I think they also understand we aren’t at the finish line when it comes to ensuring all teachers and all students have the resources and support they need to excel,” he said.

Trump acknowledges China polices may mean US economic pain

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump acknowledged Tuesday his aggressive China trade policies may mean economic pain for Americans but insisted they’re needed for more important long-term benefits.

He insisted he’s not fearing a recession but is nonetheless considering new tax cuts to promote growth.

Asked if his trade war with China could tip the country into recession, Trump brushed off the idea as “irrelevant” and said it was imperative to “take China on.”

“It’s about time, whether it’s good for our country or bad for our country short-term,” he said.

Paraphrasing a reporter’s question, Trump said, “Your statement about, ‘Oh, will we fall into a recession for two months?’ OK? The fact is, somebody had to take China on.”

The president indicated that he had no choice but to impose the tariffs that have been a drag on U.S. manufacturers, financial markets and, by some measures, American consumers.

Trump was clear he didn’t think the nation is at risk of a recession, and that a boom was possible if the Federal Reserve would slash its benchmark interest rate.

“We’re very far from a recession,” Trump said. “In fact, if the Fed would do its job, I think we’d have a tremendous spurt of growth, a tremendous spurt.”

Yet he also said he is considering a temporary payroll tax cut and indexing to inflation the federal taxes on profits made on investments — moves designed to stimulate faster growth. He downplayed any idea that these thoughts indicate a weakening economy, saying, “I’m looking at that all the time anyway.”

Asked about his remarks, White House spokesman Judd Deere said “the president does not believe we are headed for a recession. The economy is strong because of his policies.”

Trump faces something of an inflection point on a U.S. economy that appears to be showing vulnerabilities after more than 10 years of growth. Factory output has fallen and consumer confidence has waned as he has ramped up his trade war with China. In private, Trump and his advisers have shown concern that a broader slowdown if not an outright recession could arrive just as he is seeking reelection based on his economic record.

Trump rattled the stock and bond markets this month when he announced plans to put a 10% tax on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports. The market reaction suggested a recession might be on the horizon and led Trump to delay some of the tariffs that were slated to begin in September, though 25% tariffs are already in place for $250 million in other Chinese goods.

The president has long maintained that the burden of the tariffs is falling solely on China, yet that message was undermined by his statements to reporters Tuesday prior to a meeting in the Oval Office with the president of Romania.

“My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t take China on. But I like doing it because I have to do it,” Trump said.

The world economy has been slowing in recent months, and recent stock market swings have added to concerns that the U.S. economy is not immune. A new survey Monday showed a big majority of economists expecting a downturn to hit by 2021.

Addressing that possibility, Trump focused anew on pressuring the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates. Presidents have generally avoided criticizing the Federal Reserve publicly, but Trump has shown no inclination to follow that lead. Rather, he’s positioning Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to take the fall if the economy swoons.

“I think that we actually are set for a tremendous surge of growth, if the Fed would do its job,” Trump said. “That’s a big if.”

Trump recommended a minimum cut of a full percentage point in the coming months.