MPS hosts back to school kickoff to bring in the new year

Mustang Public Schools’ faculty and staff came together early Monday morning to celebrate the start of the new academic year.

The Back to School Kickoff celebration began with the “Breakfast of Champions” at 7:15 a.m. Monday morning.

Child Nutrition Director Tammy Bales makes the entire breakfast happen based off donations so the district doesn’t have to pay for the meal at all.

“She pulls this breakfast off and gets all the food donated so we’re not using tax payer’s dollars to eat. She figures out how to get people to donate and has her ladies come in and they feed hundreds. It is a highlight for me—of course I like to eat anyway, so it’s great,” Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel said.

After the breakfast, the employees filed into the auditorium for a celebration.

The celebration lasted about an hour and just focuses on “highlighting our kids,” McDaniel said.

JROTC, Drumline and Drama students are part of the celebration each year. This year, Mustang Band also made a surprise appearance to perform with the drumline.

Speakers included Rebekah Pope, senior class president and student council president; McDaniel, and Chad Harper, district teacher of the year finalist, who was introduced by Tiffany Massie, last year’s district teach of the year finalist.

McDaniel previously said the celebration is just meant to pump teachers up before sending them to their buildings to get their classrooms ready and prepare for the next two days of professional development before students came back to school today.

“We love to kick it off. There are some districts whose superintendents stands up there and talk for 30 minutes about goal setting, blah blah blah, and I’ve been in those and they’re great, but—this is a time where everybody is coming back from the summer and they haven’t seen each other and they’re excited and there’s a buzz in there. None of them—not one of them—want to hear me talk for 30 minutes, so we just let them enjoy the kids,” McDaniel said.

Pope started her speech stating simply “good morning” before joking about early it was.

“But all jokes aside, it’s an amazing morning because I have the opportunity to share this moment with you. I have the opportunity to experience the onset of a new year with some of the greatest teachers and best staff in the state—I’m sorry, I mean the nation—wait, probably the world. And you’re probably thinking, ‘wow, miss Pope, can you calm the dramatics? Okay, we get it. Or, who paid her?’ But no, there’s no payment, no dramatics, just seriousness. Everyone in this room is capable or has already meant the world to a student. I say that from the bottom of my heart—the education system, the learning environment and everything I know about this thing called school has been institutionalized by all of you,” Pope said. “The people in this room have the ability to shape the world tomorrow.”

Pope went on to discuss how no matter what reaction they get from students or how much disrespect they may receive, or how much they work to get everything done, they continue to come do their jobs with a smile every day.

“It is you all, believe it or not, that keeps us students going,” Pope said.

McDaniel used his time to commend Pope on her speech, to thank Bales for her breakfast and to thank support staff for getting the school prepared for the new year during the summer.

He then went over core values.

“These are things that you look at and you may question ‘are these really values? These look more behavioral,’ but I want to go through these anyway. These are the things that we say as a school district that we’re focused on. If we do these things really, really well, most of what we do as educators will take care of itself,” McDaniel said.

The list includes:

1. Attending to relationships.

“I think in this district, we do this better than anybody,” he said. “Our goal with attending to relationships is to continue toward perfection.”

2. Laser focus on student success, which is what McDaniel pointed out during his presentation.

“Focus on the words student success—student success has a lot of different meanings to all of us, and it’s not only about test scores. I think I’ve made it hopefully clear what I think about test scores—I think they’re important, I think they’re critical in measuring and informing us so that we can make decisions about kids and about curriculum, but there are a lot of other pieces to the definition when we talk about student success,” McDaniel said. “For one, when I see a student and the student can’t even look up because of a self-esteem issue but by the end of the year, because we’ve invested, we’ve recognized, we’ve communicated with the home—that student is not only looking up, but is participating in a collaborative exercise in the classroom. That’s success— maybe not measured by a state test.”

3. Clear and Timely Communications.

4. Collaborative Culture.

“Three and four—we set them out there as works in progress. I think we can identify pieces of evidence that suggest we do a pretty good job, but again, we’ve got work to do,” he said.

“But I want to come back full circle to assessment to testing, because that’s been an important goal.”

McDaniel said each school looks at their own data and trends when it comes to state testing, but he and his staff look at the data on a district level.

“We compare, usually, how we compare with the pace of the state of Oklahoma. We had a conversation not too long ago about is it important—is it important or meaningful to talk about how we face with the state of Oklahoma with regards to sate testing. And while it’s important, we thought we needed to set a little higher standard,” McDaniel said.

He then explained how they chose to forget about statewide and instead compared themselves to 16 school districts that are known for being good test takers. That list included Broken Arrow, Union, Jenks, Owasso, Edmond North, Edmond Sante Fe, Edmond Memorial, Stillwater, Norman North, Norman, Moore, Westmoore, Yukon, Deer Creek, Enid and Sand Springs.

“So rather than comparing ourselves and comparing our kids compared to the state, let’s pick the best,” he said.

McDaniel then went over the third through eighth grade reading and math scores over a four-year-period compared to the 16 districts, to show how MPS’s students are growing.

“Sometimes we ask ourselves what is the difference of me being here or not being here, what is the difference I’m making—we know about taking care of kids, you guys do that better than anybody—identifying issues they’re having at home, self-esteem issues—all those things you identify and you work with those kids,” McDaniel said. “Sometimes I know that I come across, maybe, as dismissive of test data and I don’t mean to do that. It is important, but it’s not the only mean of student success. However, when you want to talk about student testing, we are knocking it out of the park in this district.”

Massie then introduced Harper, who came out down the center aisle with Y.M.C.A. playing, dressed in a sleeveless button up, rolled-up pants, a tool belt and hard hat.

“Okay, do you see where I got this from? The Village People? I love this village—let me tell you why, it has produced some of the greatest people on planet earth,” Harper started his speech.

“First of all, I’m going to tell you about some of the most special people in my life, it’s the village that raised me, it’s you people and I cannot be more proud to be a Mustang Bronco. This place has produced some of the finest people on planet earth.”

Harper then mentioned multiple people who taught him a lot, including David Glidden, a former student of Harper’s who has returned to Mustang, and Harper’s kindergarten teacher, Jenni Knippers.

“[Knippers] made one of the most lasting impacts on my life. First thing she did, she came in and she taught me the importance of being a kindergartener. She came in and she put a blank piece of paper on our desk and she put markers right next to it—you know, the smell good kind. One thing I learned from her is how awesome it is when you encourage kids to do a good job and you let that inner-kindergartener come out,” Haper said. “That piece of paper, let me tell you what, it was a blank page and that’s one of the most scary things in the world, but by the time it was all said and done, with a little bit of encouragement, everything we had was on that page. Everything, it was covered top too bottom, front to back, inside and outside with everything from purple cows to yellow sky to green hair, anything, it didn’t matter. How many people in that class were artists? We all were—see the important of that.”

Harper went on to talk about different classes’ “blank page” and what it takes to get students to fill it and do what they do in different subjects.

He also talked about him being the trouble child who was always in the office, as well as the teacher who thought he was going to get fired his first year.

He accredited multiple people out of the MPS teachers and administrators who were part of the “village” that raised him.

“Welcome to the village,” Harper said to new teachers at the kickoff. “You are in the best profession on planet earth. There is no other place on this planet that you can absolutely be yourself, you can step up to the plate every day, whenever it’s fourth quarter and it’s time to make that touchdown, the ball is going to be in your hands every single day. Rest assured—people say our best and brightest are leaving the state, right? I’m going to highly disagree with that because the best and the brightest are right here.

Harper then began describing a rollercoaster.

“You’re on the top of the hill ladies and gentleman. On Thursday, guess what’s going to happen, it’s going click, click, click, click and you’re up there then as soon as that bell goes, it’s going to hit the bottom. Do you know what’s going to happen? You’re going to walk into class and there’s going to be those five knuckleheads in the back row—talking a little too much, waiting for that opportune moment of you to come in. You’re going to view that as one of two things—you’re going to view that as an obstacle and you’re going to whine about it. I was taught that if you whine about something, that means you’re out of control of the situation and you’re absolutely asking for help. The second thing is you can view that as an opposition, but there’s also an opportunity. You can take advantage of that opportunity because in a view years you can grow that person into something that is absolutely special. You can grow them into Teacher of the Year,” Harper said.

To view the full Back to School Kickoff celebration, visit our Facebook page at “My Mustang News.”

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