Candidates for the state's top education post squared off Friday in what was the final act of a two-day conference of school administrators.
Recent events have highlighted the important role played by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and conference attendees were eager to hear where those seeking that position stand on several critical issues.
Two of the three Republican candidates, including incumbent Superintendent Janet Barresi, did not participate in the forum.
Still, the nearly thousand principals, teacher leaders, and local school district superintendents who were in the audience didn't seem to mind. In fact, they gave a standing ovation to Joy Hofmeister, the lone Republican who did show up.
Hofmeister, a former school teacher and State School Board member, was quick to weigh in on the state's recent repeal of Common Core (Gov. Fallin signed the legislation, H.B. 3399, Thursday.), the federal math and English standards that were originally embraced by state leaders, but then rejected for political reasons.
"Oklahomans need standards that we have confidence in," said Hofmeister. "[This is] a time to come together and be united, and exceed what is common, and respect local control."
The Democratic candidates for superintendent -- all four were there -- seem to give grudging support to the repeal, primarily, they say, because it will give the state an opportunity to create standards that reflect Oklahoma values.
"I don't care what anybody says," stated Jack Herron, the Government Relations Director for Professional Oklahoma Educators, "The Common Core standards were developed out of the state."
"We're going to set the standards in Oklahoma, and they're going to be good standards," said Ivan Holmes, a former teacher and one-time head of the state Democratic party, "probably better than what the federal government can do."
The audience also heard discussion of per pupil funding and a difference of opinion on school choice.
"I am a proponent of pushing all of the money towards public schools," said John Cox, a former superintendent and current President of Rural Elementary Schools. "School choice to me...is simple -- that we just need to put our focus back into public schools again."
But Astec Charter School founder Freda Deskin says charter schools are needed in urban areas, but should not be allowed in rural Oklahoma.
"The companies from outside of our state that want to come into Oklahoma to expand it into our rural areas," said Deskin, "[are not in it for] our students; it is not about our children; it is about money."
The forum was hosted by CCOSA, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. Organizers say invitations were extended to all candidates several months ago.
A spokesperson for the Barresi campaign says that the Superintendent's schedule didn't allow her to participate.