There was no shortage of excitement as students settled into their first of day of school at Oaks Mission in rural Delaware County. Cheers from a pep assembly could be heard on the other side campus Wednesday afternoon.
“I'm just hoping that we're creating the type of energy that is compelling people to come be part of what we're doing. I'm trying real hard to make that happen,” Superintendent Dr. John Sheridan said.
Oaks Mission is a very small school district located about 70 miles east of Tulsa. Sheridan said small, rural school districts sometimes get a bad rap and he wants to break that mold.
“I love small districts. I came to this district because I wanted a place where you could make the biggest possible impact in a small period of time,” he said.
This will be Sheridan’s second year with the district and already he’s seeing progress as enrollment has jumped more than 15 percent.
The superintendent, who is also the high school principal and a history teacher, welcomed his students during the assembly and let them know what's in store for the year.
“You guys will get the best instruction you can possibly get...you guys will be even more successful on your tests and you guys will be even more successful in life,” Sheridan told the students.
The school is adding a robotics class and expanding computer labs. Second graders and science classes will transition to a tablet program and Sheridan said he’s put in for a grant that could bring tablets to all grades.
“We're gonna change some things that are gonna make you guys perform better, it's going to give you greater access to the Internet, greater access to your learning,” he said to the students.
Fourth, fifth and sixth grade students will see the biggest change. They will move to a rotating class schedule, which means teachers will instruct students in all three grades, teaching their strongest subject. Mrs. Patsy Clinton will handle language arts and reading classes.
“We all take our jobs very seriously. We have a good group of teachers and staff here and everybody works together, it's like one big family,” Clinton said.
“School district personnel and teachers, they're the best people in the world. End of sentence. End of story. They're the best people in the world.” Sheridan said.
Sheridan said his staff is a big part of the district's sudden growth. There are about 40 new students enrolled this year, and that's a large number for a district that averages about 250 students total.
But finding new teachers to support the growth has not been easy. There were three openings for this school year and only three applications, according to Sheridan.
“We had to go out and actively recruit and beat the bushes to find great teachers,” he said.
Clinton said there may be a stigma keeping new teachers from applying to smaller districts.
“I don't know if they don't see it as a quality end to their education to have to be in a small school. My kids went to a small school and they're all very successful,” Clinton said. “Pay scale's the same all over the state of Oklahoma whether in a large district or small district.”
The superintendent said the district’s biggest challenge is competing with Arkansas, which is just 15 miles east of Oak Mission.
“The employment package offered by the state of Arkansas is better than the one that's offered by the state of Oklahoma, just as a matter of fact,” Sheridan said.
But for educators at Oaks Mission, it's not about the money; it's about the investment they make every day in the students.
“You get what you put in, and we have high expectations for all of these students and I fully expect them to achieve that,” Clinton said. “There is a bright future for Oaks Mission School, absolutely.”
The district has filled all of its teaching positions, but it may open another elementary school teacher position because the student body has grown so much.