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Dr. Cathy Burden: I Love Union

Originally posted August 16, 2012

Union Schools - Oklahoma

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartlzer hugs Superintendent Dr. Cathy Burden today, Thursday, August 16, after she announced her intention to retire on June 30, 2012.

Photos on this page from kick-off rehearsal

Employee Kickoff Celebration August 16, 2012
Comments by Superintendent Dr. Cathy Burden
Union Public Schools

I love Kick-off.  Troy Powell with this year’s amazing cast of Union talent has given us a fun start to the school year.  More than that, this is the one time each year when we are all together and can appreciate the magnitude of our Union faculty and staff.  Every time I see you all together I am reminded of the Margaret Mead quote to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Together – 1,500 strong – with Union pride, this is a group that is changing the world for the better – one student at a time.      

Cathy BurdenI love Union.  This school district is a very special place because we have very special people who are motivated by goals that have profound meaning and have dreams worth realizing.  You could make no better investment of your professional life than to be a part of Union Public Schools.  This is where we bring the American Dream to life - where every child can become a healthy, knowledgeable, prosperous citizen thanks to a quality, public education.  I am very pleased to be associated with the people in this room who have love for children and young people and respect for their families.  I am very proud to be associated with you who have the passion for public schools as the vehicle for sustaining what is right with our society and for improving what is wrong.  We have a unique opportunity to enrich the lives of so many, to help create human beings who will be better for a lifetime because of our influence, and to evoke the desire in them to carry on the best of humanity.  When you are compassionate and understanding, you teach students to be civil and kind.  When you set high expectations for yourselves and the quality of work you do, students find pride in their own success.  When you are fueled by learning, they catch your fire. 

Union Schools - OklahomaWe have an awesome responsibility.  This is a difficult time for public education – poverty is expanding the gulf between society’s “haves and have-nots”; the world economies are shifting and America is desperate to maintain our superiority in all areas.  People are looking for scapegoats to blame for a myriad of social problems and public schools have become an easy target.  The conspiracy to hurt us includes diabolical solutions such as cutting funding to public schools so the wealthy are encouraged to take tax dollars in the form of vouchers to private schools; overburdening the public schools with unfunded mandates and regulations that take away local control while requiring no accountability for tax-supported charters, private and virtual schools in the name of “choice,” or allowing greed to rule so testing companies, technology providers, and private schools can divert funding away from public schools.  These so-called “reforms” miss that kids need better health care, smaller class sizes, expanded access to early childhood education and stimulating instruction using 21st-century technology.  Instead, they have decided that kids need to be tested more. 

Don’t be demoralized by the false rhetoric that public schools are failing.  Look around.  Union Public Schools are a beacon of success but more than that, charter schools have not been shown to be superior to public schools, parents do love their children’s teachers, and the court has said that it is unconstitutional in Oklahoma for tax dollars to be diverted from the public schools to private and parochial schools for vouchers.  We have to do a better job of telling our success stories and holding our elected leaders accountable to adequately fund public schools, but if we get engaged and get our parents engaged, we are just that group of thoughtful, committed people who can do it. 

Union Schools - OklahomaAt Union we have set audaciously high expectations for ourselves.  Our aspiration is to have 100 percent of our students graduate from high school - college and/or career ready.  It is a goal that has to be ingrained in every one of you and influence everything we do.  It begins with a personalized relationship with each student.  We believe that we are here to educate the whole child before we can expect real success and we must seek out appropriate balance.  Simplistically, we are held accountable for test scores but we know that we aspire to so much more.  We know that developing real academic achievement or lifelong learners - individuals who can think and solve problems ethically and can contribute to society as decent people - won’t be accomplished if we don’t provide wrap-around services to ensure that students who don’t have support at home are healthy, well-fed, safe, emotionally stable, challenged, and cared for in an environment of trust.  Then they can be motivated to learn. 

We also know that none of us can do this alone – it takes consistent commitment to shared goals.  Certified and support from every department – it takes us all from our diverse perspectives to be fanatical about excellence so everything in our district contributes to building successful students.  When we leverage the talents of the people in this room with the support we have in our community, our students are treated to a tremendously rewarding experience. 

Years ago we began a unique journey for a school district – to open our doors and encourage the community agencies, faith-based groups, businesses, and civic groups that were willing to share in the responsibilities we shoulder to join us as partners to serve our students and their families.  We did this to build equity among our diverse student body because while we have some parents who can provide everything, we have others who struggle to feed, clothe, and care for their children.  So, to try to compensate for the impact of poverty and to level the playing field as much as possible, we adopted a Community Schools approach.   Though we only have four official Community Schools with full-time community school coordinators, the openness to partnerships and expanding how we reach out to parents, has permeated the entire district.  For the things we can control – like healthy meals at school – we have stepped up.  For those things beyond the reach of our funding, we welcome partners who bring assets and share our goals to nurture the whole child.  

Union Schools - OklahomaNow we have OU Community Medicine who operates two school-based clinics with doctors who support our nurses.  We partner with Community Action Project to fund early childhood programs and will break ground soon for eight additional classrooms at Rosa Parks Early Childhood Education Center.  We host the largest Carrera Program in the nation (thanks to George Kaiser Family Foundation) serving 440 students at 6/7th Grade Center this year with enrichment programs like job club, family life and sex education, mental and physical health services, and tutoring.  Asbury Church has generously stepped up to provide space and volunteers for Global Gardens at 6/7th Grade and Grove and has remodeled an entire building for our Adult Education program.  First Baptist Church Tulsa is taking on the responsibilities of our Clothing Closet at their CenterCross location next to the 6/7th Center so it will be bigger and better and accessible every school day.  They are also planning to involve our parents in a food co-op to bring healthy food to families.  And it was such a thrill when Church at BattleCreek did an extreme makeover last spring at Briarglen.  Their volunteers remodeled the media center, the teachers’ work room, and furnished a community room.  They also took on the I Care program to provide Christmas gifts for students in need.  Loads of our kids went to camp this summer and are involved in after-school programs thanks to efforts by Community Service Council.  The Y, the Tulsa City-County Health Department, Rotary Clubs, and many local businesses like QuikTrip are partnering with us.  Southwood Baptist Church is providing school supplies, haircuts and clothing to Clark students just like First Baptist Tulsa is for Grove and 6/7th Grade Center at CenterCross.  The Schusterman Foundation is providing equipment for a new pre-engineering program at 8th Grade for our high-potential math and science students.  We are very grateful to have such partners. 

Union Pride is not hype or based on arrogance.  We are confident since the best predictor of future success is past success.  As I think back over the last year, it is truly amazing and I can’t possibly highlight but a fraction of the accomplishments that have occurred. 

But let’s start with setting a new school record for athletic state championships - Eight sports in one year!

Our overall athletic program is ranked 5th in the nation and obviously first in Oklahoma.  Our athletes don’t just win, they are great students too.  Six teams won certificates for a team GPA over 3.25 and two – boys’ swimming and girls’ cross country - received plaques for a team GPA of 3.5 or higher. 

Nine coaches received Coach of the Year honors: 

  • Cory Butler,
  • Kevin Crutchmer,
  • Kirk Fridrich,
  • Rudy Garcia,
  • Lindsay Jones,
  • David Lynn,
  • Chadd McKee,
  • Jerry Pease, and
  • Cat Weeden.  
  • Chuck Perry was our region’s Athletic Director of the Year. 

The College Board gave our High School AP teachers a prestigious award for equity and access.  We were recognized for setting a national standard because we have so many ethnically diverse students taking AP courses with such high success.   

Thanks to a fantastic team of business professionals, Union is the only district in Oklahoma to earn the national Financial Reporting Award for more than 18 consecutive years.

The Union Virtual Learning Academy in its first year became a state and national showcase for how to blend the best of quality teaching with good online curriculum.  We are doubling the size of this program this year to serve 800 juniors and seniors since 100% of last year’s virtual students passed their EOIs.

The Alternative School reached an impressive milestone – they have now graduated more than 1,000 students since opening in 1995

EXCELerate, our concurrent credit program that offers college courses through TCC has been very successful.  Last years’ seniors graduated with 1,782 hours of TCC credit and a savings to their parents of $1.2 million in college tuition costs.  197 of last year’s seniors took 496 AP tests for a potential savings of more than $500,000 in college tuition savings.

The Renegade Regiment ranked 6th in the nation and has received an invitation to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2013, and the varsity jazz band was the top in the state.

Union patrons continued their tradition of doing everything they can to support us.  They passed the 2012 bond issues at 78 and 79 percent in February.  In my history, they have passed 27 bond issues for more than $305 million at an average approval rating of more than 73%.  Even though we had to do two votes again, that means that 100% of the time, our voters have come through for us.

Our Child Nutrition department is something to be proud of.  We not only have a connection to our own farm, we now have a chef, Eli Huff.  Eating at the High School next year will be a brand new experience with eight different serving locations to entice everyone to eat healthy on campus. 

Our staff members are amazing examples of excellence: 

  • In addition to Kristyne Salley, District Teacher of the Year, and Bernice Tharps, Support Employee of the Year, Bobbie Fields from Jefferson was named Oklahoma Counselor of the Year. 
  • Donna Hickman at the 8th Grade Center has been named a National Law-Related Teacher of the Year. 
  • Last year’s chemistry teacher, Becky Morales, earned the national Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching making her the fourth Union teacher to win this national honor. 
  • Advanced physiology teacher Steve Moran was selected as a Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction by the National Society of High School Scholars.
  • Steven Blades from Moore received the OEA Education Support Professional Award for 2012. 
  • OU’s College of Education named Dr. Kathy Dodd as their Outstanding Educator. 
  • Troy Powell involved more students than ever in the high-flying musical, The Wizard of Oz, and I can’t wait for Cats this year.  (See schedule.)

Union Schools - OklahomaLast year we successfully implemented embedded collaboration on Late-Start Fridays, expanded Community Schools to 6/7th Grade Center and expanded after-school community education courses at elementary schools.  Our Extended Day Program has grown significantly in quality and participation, and our adult education is serving adults all over northeastern Oklahoma. 

And that brings us to next year.  There are some great new things coming!

We are very pleased to announce that we have a new partner to operate our Wellness Center which will now be known as The Y at Union.  Partnering with the YMCA means that we will offer more classes, special activities for the family, and generally do more to support the overall wellness of you and the community.  You can also upgrade to a membership September 1 that will let you use any Y facility throughout the greater Tulsa area, and the district will still help subsidize your membership. 

After lots and lots of work over the last year, the finance, HR and payroll division will be rolling out new software that is expected to increase efficiency for everyone.  Their work behind the scenes contributes so much to the excellence of our organization.  

Connie LaneHave you heard that Dr. Lane will be our full-time physician at the Union Clinic?  Everyone who uses our employee clinic loves Dr. Connie Lane (pictured at right) from OU Physicians Group and now you can visit the clinic anytime knowing that she and her staff will be there to give you good care. 

Construction at the High School is winding down just in time to begin the fine arts wing at the 6/7th Grade Center and the tennis facility at the 9th Grade Center.  We are also working on a plan for a new enrollment center that would welcome new students more comfortably. 
Teacher leadership at Union is alive and well.  Thanks to three Clark teachers – Lisa Gildea, Traci Gardner, and Debbie Bury – day-before-yesterday we finalized a partnership with the City of Tulsa to share space at Hicks Parks as a community center to support our community school initiative.  These innovative teacher leaders dreamed big, developed a compelling case and then sold it to the Mayor so our families will benefit. 

Union Schools - OklahomaOur relationship-based administrative and counselor reorganization is also shaping up.  We now have a counselor at every secondary site who works all summer to help welcome and schedule new students.  Our grade level administrative and counselor teams are also fully in place at the High School.  Mr. Morris’ seniors graduated so he will now become the principal for sophomores and stay with them until they graduate.  Mr. Chargois will be accompanying his 10th graders from last year to the High School for their junior year, and Ms. Witcher will be staying with her juniors from last year as they become seniors this year.  The whole idea is to make the connection between adults and students a lasting, caring one.  When we say 100 pertcent graduation, we mean it, and building a long-lasting personalized relationship gets a boost with this new structure.  A smaller 9th Grade Center will also be a great place to build a foundation for high school-level work. 

The really big story is that this focus on 100 percent graduation is working.  Union’s actual dropout rate in 2011 was lower than it was for any year since 1994 when I came to this district.  We are making progress.

We know that the state has mandated a new teacher evaluation system, a new principal evaluation system, a new A-F grading system for schools, test-driven retention of students in the 3rd grade, and movement toward the Common Core for next year.  Some have merit and we will implement those with fidelity.  Some desperately need modification.  I assure you that we will implement those that are good for kids, but will continue to challenge initiatives that seek to over test, threaten good teachers, use high-stakes testing to make kids drop out, or violate the constitution by spending tax dollars on vouchers. 

During my 19 years at Union we have built some pretty remarkable structures and polished the Union tradition of having state-of-the art facilities for our students.  When I arrived we were completing the 6/7th Grade Center and then we built Cedar Ridge, Moore, Rosa Parks, Jefferson, Rosa Parks Early Childhood Center, and the Union Multipurpose Activity Center (UMAC).  We have built a baseball/softball complex, turfed the football field twice, updated the swimming pool, built a soccer complex and Central Park at Union.  We have a new Education Service Center and Alternative School campus.  We remodeled and added wings at Grove, the 8th Grade Center, 9th Grade Center, and High School.   We’ve added a gym at the 9th Grade Center and remodeled the Performing Arts Center and support services.  All of these have been exciting and have added to the cachet of Union, but I’m not sure that any of them have been more meaningful than the addition of the Union Collegiate Academy to our showcase High School. 

The Union Collegiate Academy (UCA) is more than a space – it is a concept based on equity, access, and high expectations for all our students.  The idea behind the UCA germinated in July 2008 when Kirt Hartzler, Kathy Dodd, Charlie Bushyhead, and I were embroiled in a conversation regarding the importance of reinforcing our college-prep tradition in light of changing realities.  The planning has involved many Board and staff members since then to become the amazing structure and powerful idea that is ready to emerge when school begins.  I am so excited to invite each one of you to view the building today and see the outstanding opportunities that will be available to Union students.  

The new facility supports our district goal of 100 percent graduation and college/career readiness.  The focal point of the UCA wing on the first floor is the College and Career Center where each student will have personal support to actualize their college and career plan.  You will see that the environment is college-like with student study areas, specialized science labs, computers for virtual courses, and tiered rooms that look like college lecture halls.  The Grand Hall will provide meeting space for large or small groups and the Cyber Café will be a Starbucks-like area open all day so students can use the building day and night.  Additional spaces include an Alumni Center, fine arts display, and outdoor classrooms.  I hope that UCA becomes a destination for younger grades all over the district to witness science demonstrations, visit the College and Career Center, and just get excited about how concurrent college classes and AP classes can help them earn college credit during their journey to college from high school. 

There is not another high school in Oklahoma that will offer what Union High School will now offer.  It will be a beacon that shows what public schools can do if we put kids first.  Union Pride will continue to permeate the entire campus of more than 3,200 students, grades 10-12.  I hope that you are as excited as I am and enjoy the walk-through today.  There will be a public Open House on September 23 but we wanted you to be the first to see it. 
And if you thought that maybe you’d see it some other time, here is another reason to go today.  Your stipend checks are ready and they will be waiting for you in the Union Collegiate Academy Grand Hall.  Since you can’t all wait in line at the same time, look around.  Make sure you see the College and Career Center, climb the grand staircase and look down, make sure you go out on the 3rd floor balcony and look at our outdoor campus in the shape of a U where there will be WiFi so students can take their laptops to work while they enjoy good weather.  While you’re on the balcony notice that our small, first-generation video scoreboard at the stadium is being replaced with a new one - the biggest of any high school in the area!   Make sure you see Andrea Gaines’ room where her students will have such sophisticated equipment that they can test DNA and Ken Woxell’s room where students will be able to chart energy production from solar panels and wind turbines.  Make sure you see where the robots will be built and the cats will be dissected.  Our students are so fortunate and I hope that you will investigate it all.

I hope that you are now excited to take your tour and pick up your stipend checks but I said at the beginning that I loved Kick-off because all of our Union family is here together and I can talk to you all at the same time.  So before I let you go, I do have another important thing to say.  First, I want to introduce and recognize the wonderful team of executive administrators who lead this district on a daily basis.  They are the ones who oversee every aspect of this district and they are outstanding professionals.  Debbie Jacoby – Chief Financial Officer; Dr. Kirt Hartzler – Deputy Superintendent; Dr. Kathy Dodd – Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning; and Charlie Bushyhead – Assistant Superintendent for Support Services.

And I want to introduce and thank our Board of Education who provide such supportive and thoughtful leadership for this district.  They are astute about education and they have been willing to stand up with courage to speak for public schools and to celebrate what we do.  They are truly wonderful people — Heather McAdams, Ed Payton, Scott McDaniel, Jeff Bennett, and Patrick Coyle.

I have been one of the most fortunate people on earth to spend 19 years at Union in a profession that I am passionate about and in a district and job that I love - but at the end of this school year, on June 30th, I will retire – a Union Redskin for Life.  My trusted colleague Sandy Brazeal, my executive administrative assistant who has worked with me for a decade, will also be retiring.  Sandy and I both have grandchildren to play with so it is time to turn over the reins to others who are more than ready to step up and continue great things in the future. 

Three years ago I began planning with our Board of Education so when the time came for me to retire, there would be a continuity of vision and seamless transition of leadership.  The Board recognized that the depth and quality of leadership on our administrative team was second-to-none and that maintaining our focus by elevating that leadership would allow the Union Way to continue without interruption.  They have wisely selected a fine person and respected leader as our next Superintendent, who will begin in July 2013.  I appreciate the Board allowing me to introduce Dr. Kirt Hartzler as the next Superintendent of Union Public Schools.

I look forward to a great final year with you.  There will be lots of time for goodbyes.  I’m not going anywhere now.  We have work to do.  I hope to spend time on the political and statewide issues that are challenging us while Dr. Hartzler takes the lead on district initiatives.  Sharing responsibilities with him will be a joy.  So, I hope that you continue to challenge yourselves to work in a way that excites and improves the school experience for all of our students.   Make this year count! 

Photos below from kick-off rehearsal

Union Schools - Oklahoma

Union Schools - Oklahoma

Union Schools - Oklahoma

Union Schools - Oklahoma

Union Schools - Oklahoma

Union Schools - Oklahoma

Union Schools - Oklahoma