Robert Neu’s address to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber on Wednesday contained a little sizzle and a lot of substance.
In his state of the schools report, Neu, who has been superintendent of the Oklahoma City School District for 37 days, announced aggressive plans to raise teacher pay, offer digital devices to every student and repay the college debt of teachers.
“We must attract and retain the very best teachers and principals in the land,” said Neu, who announced plans to offer relocation packages and higher pay to teachers.
He also announced a new partnership with Oklahoma City Community College and the University of Central Oklahoma. Those post-secondary schools will accept OKC district graduates to its education degree program, and if those students return to the district for three years as a teacher, their college debt will be paid off.
Neu also asked the business leaders at the chamber lunch to embrace the school district and find ways to partner with local schools.
“I ask that you change the way you think about public schools in Oklahoma City,” Neu said. “Just like you changed the way you thought about the city a few year ago.”
Neu also announced that all sophomores and juniors would take the PSAT for free this fall. The district also plans to provide a digital device to every student in the coming years, which is a $25 million investment.
Prior to Neu’s address, the chamber heard from Mike Petrilli, an education author and policy wonk from Washington DC. Petrilli spoke of the national education reform debate and commented that Oklahoma was ground zero for some of the biggest issues.
“We are seeing some of the biggest backlash to education reform that we have seen in at least a decade, if not a generation,” Petrilli said. “Oklahoma has been through a tough stretch on the education reform front.”
Petrilli addressed the state’s appeal of Common Core and that he believed lawmakers should reconsider.
“I’m the guy that they send to red states to try and convince them to support common core,” Petrilli said.
While Neu did not address Common Core, he did say the district plans to write its own “rigorous” curriculum.
Neu’s first state of the schools address was his first opportunity to speak to a large group of city and business leaders and many seemed impressed with his thoughts. Neu’s speech ended with a standing ovation from the several hundred in attendance.
“Every one of our students has hopes and dreams,” Neu said. “It’s our responsibility to connect them to those hopes and dreams.”