The state's biggest school district has a new superintendent and he is weighing in on some of the most difficult challenges facing students and teachers in Oklahoma.
Robert Neu comes to OKC from the Federal Way School District in Washington. His approach, he says, will be focused on student success by implementing high expectations for faculty and staff.
"We absolutely have to put great teachers in front of our students 100% of the time, every day," he explained.
But Neu is coming into the job while districts wonder what will come next. Neu has been following the developments in Oklahoma when it comes to statewide standards. He told News 9 that the back-and-forth politics regarding Common Core could unintentionally be detrimental to students. He prefers a more locally-driven approach to education since the needs of students differ from district to district.
"Let's knock off the nonsense about how to get there. Let us, give us the playing field, the parameters to operate in and then let the educators put the pieces of the puzzle together," Neu said. "What concerns me is when politics comes into play and adults are using the conversation at the risk of, perhaps unintended consequences for the kids."
The confusion surrounding the repeal of Common Core and subsequent court challenge is an example of this. A pending lawsuit puts districts in a situation where the future of instruction is in question.
"School starts in 33 days and so that's the curriculum that's we're going to implement. We have no choice," he said. "There's no way that we can retool and start school on August 4 with a different curriculum."
Another hot-button issue Neu has his eye on is the 3rd-grade reading test (RSA). Right now OKCPS plans to hold back more than 630 because of the law. That number is down significantly since the test as hundreds of students qualified for "Good-Cause Exemptions" or retested and passed. Neu said the test might now be producing the best results.
"I'm conflicted with the law and here's why: I think that anytime you put that high stakes of a test in front of kids, especially 8-year-olds, could have adverse effects. Retention is not a proven strategy, an effective strategy," he explained. "We know this. We know this the research. We've known this for decades."
Neu said he will focus on improving classroom performance by attracting top-caliber teachers. He is confident that if prospects actually see Oklahoma City and feel the energy around improving schools, they will want to work here.