Auditors have discovered three secret banks accounts used by the state Education Department. Check back to NewsOK.com for more as this develops. Here’s the auditor’s press release for now:
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Auditor Gary Jones released a supplemental investigative report today requested by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
This supplemental investigative report follows an initial special audit report released January 4, 2012, which reviewed travel claims by a former state education department official.
“Superintendent Janet Barresi and the state School Board originally asked for a special audit regarding some suspicious travel claims by a former employee,” said State Auditor Gary Jones. “Information came to light during that investigation that suggested a much bigger problem had existed at the State Department of Education.
“We brought the information to the attention of Superintendent Barresi and requested permission to continue to investigate the existence of a previously unknown bank account,” Jones said. “We appreciate her full support and assistance in this matter.”
During the course of this limited investigation, the State Auditor became aware of three unauthorized, previously unknown bank accounts that were utilized as a slush fund to spend more than $2.3 million over a 10-year period. The use of these accounts allowed former State Education Department Officials to issue payments shielded from government oversight as well as public scrutiny.
SAI investigators spent many hours reviewing documents and conducting interviews during the course of this investigation.
The supplemental investigative report is available at the State Auditor’s website, www.sai.ok.gov
Cooler temperatures and shorter days of fall soon will bring superheroes, cartoon characters, movie stars and more to our doorsteps, as boys and girls dress up to celebrate Halloween.
Dating back 2,000 years,”All Hallows Eve” has roots in an ancient Celtic harvest festival and the Christian holy day of All Saints Day. During the past century, Americans have helped shape Halloween into more of a whimsical, community event for children.
While Halloween is a festive and fun time, it is also one of the most dangerous celebrations of the year for children. According to Safe Kids USA, children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than the rest of the year.
This year, families can help make Halloween less scary by following a few safety measures, such as these for a “SAFE HALLOWEEN” from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
S – Swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible.
A – Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.
F – Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see you.
E – Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them.
H – Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you.
A – Always test make-up in a small area first and remove before bedtime to prevent irritation.
L – Look both ways before crossing the street! Use established crosswalks wherever possible.
L – Lower your risk for bacterial infection or eye injury by NOT wearing decorative contact lenses, unless they are prescribed and fitted by a medical professional.
O – Only walk on sidewalks or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.
W – Wear well-fitting masks, costumes, and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips, and falls.
E – Eating factory-wrapped treats is best. Avoid homemade treats unless you know the cook.
E – Enter homes only if you’re with a trusted adult; otherwise, stay outside.
N – Never walk near lit candles or luminaries. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.
Here’s to a safe and happy Halloween!
On any given school day, more than 369,000 children in Oklahoma ride to and from school on yellow buses that together travel 67 million miles each year. With so many miles to cover and thousands of boys and girls to transport safely, practicing school bus safety is a must at all times.
It’s one reason we observe National School Bus Safety Week each fall. This year, October 19-23, “Avoid Harm, Obey the Arm” is the national theme to stress the need for drivers to obey the rules of the road and for students to follow safety rules.
Motorists, parents and students alike are reminded that:
• Yellow lights will flash when a school bus is preparing to stop.
• Red lights will flash and a red stop sign arm will unfold from the side
of the bus when cars must stop because a bus is loading or unloading.
• Never pass on the right side of a bus where children board. It is also
illegal for motorists to pass a school bus that is stopped.
• Motorists may proceed only after the red lights have stopped flashing,
the stop sign arm has been folded up and the bus moves.
• When the bus approaches, students should stand at least three giant
steps (6 feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street. Also:
1. They may board only after the bus stops, the door opens, and the
driver says it’s okay to step onto the bus.
2. They should never walk behind the bus but rather several feet in front
where the driver can see them.
3. If something is dropped near the bus, children should tell the bus
driver and only retrieve the item if the driver can see them.
The school bus continues to be the safest form of transportation to and from school. In fact, it is eight times safer than passenger vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In a 2002 report by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies for Science (NAS), children were found to be at more risk traveling in private passenger vehicles to and from school – especially if a teenage driver is involved – than in school buses.
The most dangerous part of the bus ride is when students load and unload from the bus. So please review safety rules with your children. Together – students, parents and communities – we can help ensure a safe and secure ride to school for boys and girls.
Thirty-four-year-old Brian Grimm, an English instructor at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, has been named Oklahoma’s 2010 Teacher of the Year.
I was honored to make this announcement this week before a standing-room-only audience of educators, friends and family members at the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City. Grimm repeatedly motioned “thumbs up” while accepting a “prize package” valued at more than $60,000.
The prizes from numerous, generous sponsors includes: Teacher of the Year trophy; $11,000 in cash awards and stipends; a laptop computer; a year’s lease of a Toyota Prius; thousands of dollars in Oklahoma college tuition fee waivers; a $500 credit toward a classroom makeover; specialized training; and software and computer equipment for the classroom.
As Teacher of the Year, Grimm will spend the next year as “Oklahoma’s Ambassador of Teaching” and will represent our state in the National
Teacher of the Year ceremony.
A native Oklahoman, Grimm attended school in Sapulpa before relocating to Texas with his family. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He credits his family’s influence as educators, and the mentoring of two college professors with his dedication to his profession. “I never considered anything but teaching,” he said.
Grimm returned to the Tulsa area in 2004, when he was employed at Will Rogers, a Title I school beset with problems common to urban schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
He says he was challenged to make the curriculum “relevant to kids with so much on their plates,” and credits his success and that of his students as a joint effort between school administrators, fellow teachers and district officials.
He admits his career as an educator was almost derailed by frustration and disillusionment. Nothing in his earlier experiences—teaching well prepared students in affluent schools—had prepared him for the students plagued with generational poverty he found at Will Rogers High.
After much thought and contemplation that first year at Will Rogers, Grimm became determined to reach deep in his educator’s toolbox to do whatever needed to reach his students and be an effective teacher. He hasn’t looked back since.
While Grimm says his message is simple, “You can do it!,” he says success with challenged students required him to think beyond traditional methods.
“In a contemporary classroom filled with students from diverse backgrounds…there is no particular formula, no exact equation for success,” he says. Teachers just need to “go to school every day and be prepared to try something new.”
I wholeheartedly agree, Mr. Grimm. Congratulations!
With the school year in full swing, boys and girls are busy learning new things and completing classroom assignments. Backpacks are chock full of pens and pencils, books and paper, and most likely homework.
A great resource for homework help, project research or general knowledge is called the Digital Prairie. A set of statewide databases, the Digital
Prairie has a collection of full-text reference materials available for all Oklahomans to use for free, 24/7. All that is needed to get started is a computer connected to the Internet, a username and password, which you can get from your local school or public library.
Digital Prairie is a service of the Oklahoma Library Technology Network and is funded by the state Legislature through the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Federal funds are also provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Great resources for school reports are available for any grade level and include articles from a wide variety of professional and popular journals, magazines, and newspapers. There are also historical and current maps of states and other countries, and pictures that can be downloaded.
Digital Prairie includes:
• EBSCO has thousands of complete articles, from both professional
journals and general interest magazines, as well as an encyclopedia, dictionary and an image collection. It has more than 1,000 national and international publications. There are search tools in place for students of all ages, parents and educators as well. “Searchasaurus” is designed for lower elementary, “Kids Search” is for upper elementary and middle school students, and “Student Research Center” is for middle and high school students.
• SIRS Discoverer is geared toward Grades K-8, with articles and Web
sites that are age-appropriate and selected by a team of former teachers.
It includes articles and images from more than 1,600 newspapers, magazines, government documents and appropriate Web sites.
• FirstSearch/WorldCat is a comprehensive bibliography, representing many
languages, and including information that is available in libraries around the world.
Access to Digital Prairie is available on the State Department of Education’s Web site http://www.sde.state.ok.us/ from the Library Media/Instructional Television office. Call your local school library or public library to get your username and password, so you can start exploring Oklahoma’s Digital Prairie – today!
With classrooms now full across our state, boys and girls want to know how long until recess, not how to prevent the flu.
However, with the return of students for the fall semester, health officials are expecting cases of H1N1, also referred to as the “swine flu,” to increase. Unfortunately, many cases have already been confirmed in universities and schools in this state, and many more are likely as flu season approaches.
While the normal flu season in Oklahoma is trouble enough from November through March, cases of the flu were reported during the spring and summer this year. The regular seasonal flu vaccine will be available this month, but is not expected to protect against the H1N1 flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The H1N1 vaccine could be available sometime in late fall.
Health officials still advise that the best way to prevent the spread of any illness is to:
• Wash hands often with soap and water
• Cover coughs and sneezes
• If possible avoid close contact with someone who is ill
Anyone with a flu-like illness and running a fever of 100 degrees or more is advised to stay at home until they are symptom-free and have had no fever without the use of medication for 24 hours.
Also, there are people who are more at-risk of 2009 H1N1 complications, including those who are pregnant, have asthma or diabetes, have compromised immune systems or have neuromuscular diseases, such as cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome. Parents of high risk children should consult their pediatricians to discuss what actions they should take if an outbreak of flu or H1N1 occurs at their children’s schools.
The State Department of Education continues to work with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the lead state agency on this issue, to help guide schools in case of outbreaks. We have been advised by state and federal health authorities that school closure for H1N1 will likely be a rare occurrence. With what we know about the virus now, only if an outbreak increases to an extreme level and the disruption to learning is great will health authorities recommend to school administrators that they temporarily close schools.
We have asked Oklahoma public school leaders to work closely with their county health departments in an effort to prepare and prevent. A letter detailing our guidance to schools can be found on the State Department of Education’s Web site,
Many school districts are training personnel to look for specific symptoms and how to monitor for illnesses. And, school leaders have been asked to set up plans to ensure that ill students will not fall behind because of missing classes. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses should be exchanged between parents and teachers, and school Web sites could perhaps be used to post assignments.
With increased awareness of this flu and the use of common-sense prevention steps, hopefully together we can help keep students healthy and in school!
Some of our fondest memories growing up involve grandparents—the smell of fresh baked pies, big family dinners and lively rounds of board games. I certainly wouldn’t trade anything for that time together or all of the lessons learned.
Times have changed of course, and Americans live longer, commute easier and faster, and technology allows us to stay in touch instantly by phone, email, and even video. The traditional grandparent-child relationship also has changed.
Today, more than six million children in the United States are being raised by grandparents, a dramatic increase in the last 20 years. In Oklahoma, more than 57,000 or 6 percent of all children live in grandparent-headed households. There are only a handful of states with a higher rate than ours, which is attributed to the shocking number of mothers in this state who are incarcerated and/or who are substance-abusers.
While the role of grandparent has changed through the years, senior Oklahomans are an even more essential part of families and it is important as ever we honor them.
A special day has been set aside to celebrate. Sunday, September 13, is National Grandparents Day. It has been observed annually on the first Sunday following Labor Day since 1978.
The day was first proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter and founded by Marian McQuade, a West Virginia housewife to honor grandparents, give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and help children become aware of the strength and guidance older people can offer.
Here are some helpful reminders (from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) for grandparents raising grandchildren that are also great for caregivers of all types:
Ø Daily routines for meals, bedtime or other activities help everyone.
Ø Children need to know that they can always talk to you about problems they have.
Ø Doing things such as reading, walking and playing let children know you value your time with them.
Ø And, don’t forget to take care of yourself by attending a support group, enrolling in a parenting class and taking breaks to relax.
Resources for “grandfamilies” are also available online at www.aarp.org, www.okdhs.org and www.usa.gov/Topics/Grandparents.shtml.
Whether celebrating together as a small group or at a large family reunion, I hope all Oklahomans will honor grandparents for all that they have done and all they continue to do.
Read to a child – the benefits last a lifetime!
Kids Count focus: The well-being of children By Sandy Garrett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Friday, August 14, 2009
As school bells ring and classroom doors open for the new school year, the quality of life for boys and girls in our state takes center stage with the national release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “2009 Kids Count Data Book.”
This is a much-anticipated annual report that gives state and national comparisons for children’s well-being. And, unfortunately, what is considered the overall well-being of children in Oklahoma has fallen to a ranking of 44th in the nation; we ranked 38th just four years ago.
Of the 10 key measures studied in every state, we have improved in three, remained unchanged in one and worsened in six since 2000.
• Fewer teens (aged 16-19) are dropping out of high school in Oklahoma,
down from 14 percent to 8 percent in the most recent report.
• The number of teens not in school or working decreased from 11 percent
to 9 percent in Oklahoma.
• The infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 live births) has slightly
decreased from 8.5 percent in 2000 to 8.0 percent in 2006.
• The teen birth rate (births per 1,000 females aged 15-19) has stayed the
same since 2000.
• More Oklahoma children are living in homes where no parent has full-time
or year-round employment, rising to 35 percent from 33 percent in 2000.
• Single-parent homes are the norm for 33 percent of Oklahoma children, a
3 percent increase since 2000.
• Children living in poverty—with a family income below $21,027—has risen
from 19 percent in 2000 to 22 percent.
• An increase of low-birth weight babies from 7.5 percent in 2000 to 8.3
• Child deaths (children aged 1-14 per 100,000) have gone from 25 percent
in 2000 to 29 percent.
• Teen deaths (teens aged 15-19 per 100,000) increased from 77 percent in
2000 to 85 percent.
Study after study has shown that family and economic factors such as enjoying regular meals, getting plenty of sleep, and feeling safe and secure impact children’s academic performance. These are not excuses; these are the facts of life. The better we take care of and invest in our children, the more opportunity for success they will have.
While state and national comparisons on the 10 “Kids Count” measures are helpful, data on how each county performs on these measures also is available here or by contacting the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is our state’s point of contact for a variety of public awareness and engagement activities related to the status of children and families.
Every school day, no matter the situation in which children live and learn, school faculty and staff will continue providing academic instruction, nutritious meals and a caring heart to the children who enroll in Oklahoma public schools. We know that kids count!
Yellow school buses and flashing school zone lights soon will be seen as early as this week in neighborhoods across our state as schools resume.
This is a busy, exciting time for families, and a great time to refresh on back-to-school safety basics.
More than 372,000 students ride school buses daily in Oklahoma. The school bus continues to be the safest form of transporting students, yet dangers can arise when boarding and leaving a bus.
• Never walk behind a bus or in front where a driver cannot see, and check to see that no traffic is coming if crossing the street.
• Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before stepping off or on.
• Do not move around.
• Try to never wait alone.
Walking and bicycling
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says around 15 percent of students walk or bicycle to or from school. That percentage is higher in less urban areas.
• Wear a helmet and use hand signals; respect traffic laws and ride on the right-hand side of the street in the same direction as traffic.
• Walkers should have a planned route and follow sidewalks or paths if they exist.
• Look both ways before crossing the street, and only cross when clear.
• Walk with a buddy if possible. With younger students, try what the
American Academy of Pediatrics calls a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children to and from school.
• Avoid interaction with strangers.
• Stay clear of vacant lots, fields, and construction sites.
The vast majority of children come from families where both parents work outside the home. If children are staying home alone after school, it is crucial to:
• Create a password for family or trusted adults to use when picking your child up from school or in the home when you are not there.
• Make sure children always have access to parent contact information and know what to do in an emergency; laminated cards are a great idea for younger children.
• Keep doors locked at all times.
• Never answer the door to a stranger, even one who is in uniform; refrain from allowing familiar adults into the home when alone and when they’re not expected.
• Avoid answering unnecessary phone calls and never tell callers they are home alone. Children should say their parent can’t come to the phone right now and take a message.
Adults and children also can make this school year a safe one by using SAFE-CALL, the nation’s first statewide school safety hotline. Citizens can make anonymous calls to the toll-free line 24 hours a day, 365 days each year to report any potential dangers to students or unsafe conditions at schools. The hotline is 1 (877) SAFE-CALL, extension OK1 (or 1-877-723-3225, ext. 651).
Let’s help make this year a safe and happy one for boys and girls!
Schools’ summer breaks seem to be flying by and, with the flip of the calendar, August is here!
Over the next few weeks, Oklahoma schools will be back in session for the 2009-10 school year. For many families, it is time to get supplies such as pencils, paper, book bags and clothes, but helping a child get ready for the big day is much more.
A successful and happy start to the school year can result from following a few tips:
§ A week or more before the first day of school, set wake up and
bed times. This will help everyone adjust to time changes early.
Also, eating meals at a regular time will help boys and girls be
ready for a set lunch break during the week.
§ Visit the school before classes start. This gives children and
parents a chance to become familiar with the buildings and
classrooms and meet teachers and staff. Parents can ensure
records such as medical examinations, addresses and contact
numbers are up-to-date. While you are there, take a little time
to learn about resources available such as email, Web sites and
§ Communicate with your child’s teacher about his or her
expectations for the coming year. Talk with children about what
you expect and, in return, ask them what they want to achieve.
§ An upbeat, positive attitude about school will help get the year
off to a great start. Some children may be anxious about a new
class or unhappy about summer coming to an end. Take this time to
emphasize the positives like seeing old friends and making new
ones, getting new supplies or clothes and learning new skills.
§ Set a home study break. Turn off the TV and video games and set
aside time during the week for the entire family to spend time
reading a book or practicing other learning activities. Then,
when school resumes, that time can then be used for homework and
§ Get involved with the school. Ask about volunteer opportunities
that might be available for parents throughout the year in
classrooms, field trips and extracurricular activities. In
addition, your school may have parent groups or parent education
classes or events.
This time of year is exciting for the entire family and may include many changes, whether it’s a new building, teacher or classmates. The transition can be less about the end of summer vacation and more about starting a brand new school year off on the right foot!
For more information about the 2009-10 school year, see the State Department of Education’s “Back to School” Web page.