Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Tulsa schools maintain accreditation, Ryan Walters remains radioactively toxic
Maybe state superintendent of public instruction Ryan Walters got what he wanted from Tulsa Public Schools the whole time: the resignation of superintendent Deborah Gist, who left her post in time for today’s state board of education meeting in which her old district maintained its accreditation.
Or maybe he didn’t.
Though his threat appeared impossible from the start — even Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Governor Kevin Stitt came out against it — perhaps Walters’ dream was as insane as his constant rhetoric: to take over the district and cram his whacko-neo-conservative-aggrieved-white-male version of education down the throat of an almost-34,000-student urban district.
Only Gist’s resignation got in the way, forcing him to take a smaller win.
What is it we do know?
We know Walters’ toxicity remains entirely intact: for education in our state, for politics on our state, for everything but his nihilistic elevation in Christo-fascist political circles, about which, you’ve got to admit, though nakedly ambitious, he appears to be a true believer, too.
We know, too, that folks beyond Oklahoma’s borders are beginning to take note.
To update, let’s stop and get the news out.
Here’s the way The Oklahoman’s Jessie Christopher Smith reported it in a quick turnaround from Thursday’s meeting.
After months of delays and allegations, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved the Tulsa Public Schools district’s accreditation with deficiencies during the highly-anticipated meeting Thursday, adding a requirement for monthly in-person updates on the district’s progress.
The unanimous approval came after a month-long delay requested by State Superintendent Ryan Walters, who alleged serious issues, including poor academic performance, embezzlement investigations and a lack of transparency.
Because he couldn’t not, Walters punched on the break.
“I would advise Tulsa Public Schools, their leadership, do not test me,” he said, in so doing putting his original threat of accreditation loss right back on the table should the district not “drastically change directions.”
And there it is, right?
There it is.
Offered the chance to be constructive, the chance to take the win Gist gave him with some grace, even the chance to extend a we’re-all-in-this-together type of branch, he couldn’t, wouldn’t and won’t.
Like right-wing nut jobs love to wrap themselves in the flag, Walters tried wrapping himself in TPS’ students.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes for these kids,” Walters said, perhaps unaware students at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School had emptied their classrooms and hallways simultaneous to the state board meeting and ambled into S.E. Williams Stadium to protest the possibility of a state takeover.
Par for the course.
Just as his reaction to Gist’s resignation was, too.
Here was his quote on that, released Tuesday after Gist let it be known she’d be leaving.
“I have been crystal clear that Tulsa Public Schools needs a dramatic change in leadership and I am pleased to see the board taking this seriously with the removal of Deborah Gist. From day one, I called for the removal of Gist in order to get the district on a path to success. I am optimistic that this is a step in the right direction, that TPS and the community takes their situation seriously. Financial transparency and academic outcomes come next. I will always put Tulsa kids first.”
Of course, the TPS board did not remove her. Instead, Gist fell on her spike in an unselfish effort to save the district.
You have to love Walters’ parting shot, too:
“Financial transparency and academic outcomes come next.”
So rich from a guy who thinks you can teach the Tulsa Race Massacre without referencing race; who’s mismanaged at least $1.7 million in federal education funds given the state, just ask state auditor Cindy Byrd; who can’t give straight answers when the legislature brings him in to find out just what the hell’s going on in his department.
For good or ill, for him and us, Walters’ fabricated dramas are going national.
Tuesday, the New York Times was on the story, explaining the power struggle and Gist’s resignation.
Here’s a bit of that reporting, some of which Walters would surely wish you not read.
In 2022, just 8 percent of students were proficient in math and 11 percent were proficient in English language arts. The results were about on par with Oklahoma City, another large, urban district with high levels of poverty.
But Tulsa’s history and politics — a blue city in a red state — has also set it apart in a state where the teaching of race is restricted.
Wednesday, NBCnews.com was out with a story under the headline, “How Oklahoma’s schools superintendent became the state’s top culture warrior,” which is both entirely apropos given Walters’ antics and a horrible thing to be when everybody should to be pulling the same direction on something as crucial as education.
“This is a war for the souls of our kids,” the story quoted Walters having told City Elders, a group with this sentence atop its “About Us” section on its website:
“We are a national network of Elders charged with the mission of governing the gates of every city in America to establish the Kingdom of God with strength, honor and courage.”
Stitt’s a bad governor, with a terrible sense of priorities, who tries to sound harmless while doing harmful things, like stealing what’s left of tribal sovereignty.
A state-wide embarrassment, becoming a national embarrassment, who either cares not or fails to understand how he looks and sounds as he attempts making it 1948 all over again, seeking out the looniest of the loony as his base, turning everything he touches toxic, fine with it being the price of admission to the state that put him into office, because all must suffer his messiah complex.
If only there was a constitutional method for removal, and the political courage to use it.