Mike Clark was hired to be the athletic director of Yukon Public Schools in March of 2016.
In his first week on the job, he needed to print copies of something he was working on but couldn’t get his printer to work in his office.
Clark decided to go upstairs to the teacher’s lounge to make copies but when he got up there, there was a teacher already using the machine.
The teacher turned around and told Clark she was almost done and as long as he had his school faculty badge, he could use the machine after her.
He looked around for a couple of seconds and asked if there was any paper to use. The teacher turned to Clark and said, you have to provide your own paper.
It was at that point Clark said he began to truly understand the magnitude of the problem teachers and education in Oklahoma were facing.
The Oklahoma teacher walkout began April 2 and for Yukon, it lasted through Friday. Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth announced Thursday afternoon that school will resume Monday.
No one knows the impact the walkout has had or will have down the road until the dust settles but Clark said this has been a difficult couple of weeks for everyone involved.
“This is a really tough situation,” Clark said. “I really learned the importance of the classroom when I was at Midwest City as a teacher and a coach. The classroom is the most important thing in education.”
Like most schools across the state, Yukon decided to continue having spring sports throughout the walkout despite some coaches opting to not coach their respective sports during the strike.
Head boys golf coach David Jewell and head boys tennis coach Barney Moon made the decision that they were not going to coach while the walkout was taking place. They felt it would take away from what the walkout stood for, and they had full support from their athletic director.
“We say that the classroom is important,” Clark said. “Well, this puts that to the test. That is what David Jewell and Barney Moon are having trouble with. I constantly tell my coaches that they need to continually be learning and stress the importance of the classroom.
“Before the walkout occurred, I met with Dr. Simeroth and he said that you can go back fix certain things, like missed school time, but not sports.
In other states when teachers have walked out and they shut down everything, including sports, they lost the support of the community. We didn’t want to take anything away from the seniors who have worked hard to play their sports. It’s just a tough position for everyone.”
Clark said his coaches have his full support and that he encourages anyone to spend a week with 30 kids in a classroom.
“Dr. Simeroth does an outstanding job of supporting teachers,” Clark said. “I have a lot of young coaches who are trying to decide if this is going to be their career or not. A lot of them can’t do it financially. The thing people don’t realize is the impact teachers have on a young person’s life.”
That impact was evident for Clark when he taught Dejuan James as a sophomore at Midwest City. James was a football player and wrestler but struggled in the classroom.
No one in his family had ever been to college and James never thought it was a possibility until he ran into Clark as a sophomore.
“I challenged him to create goals for himself, not only in athletics but in the classroom,” Clark said. “Those goals in the classroom were going to be tougher for him than the ones he had in sports.”
James went on to win a wrestling state championship as a senior and, after he won his state title, Clark was right there and told him to pursue a college scholarship and go get his college degree.
James still had doubts about whether he could accomplish that goal but Clark kept pushing him and told him the day he earns that degree to call him and he will be there to see it.
Clark got the call a few years later when James was set to graduate from the University of Central Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree.
“I have won state championships as a coach, but that was my proudest moment as an educator,” Clark said.
Just three years ago, Clark received another call from James. This time it was to let his former teacher and coach know that he had just earned his master’s degree.
“You truly never know the impact you can have on a young person’s life,” Clark said. “I am not on the front lines anymore and I haven’t been for 11 years now. These teachers have really impressed me. They are a power entity now that has a voice. I hope they can get all they can get.”