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Right-hand man


The state Department of Education gets a new chief of staff, but is he conservative enough?

Clifton Adcock December 14th, 2011

The state Department of Education is seeing change in its upper-echelons, as Superintendent Janet Barresi’s new chief of staff comes on board.

Joel Robison, who served as the Oklahoma Education Association’s lobbyist and associate executive director, succeeds former Chief of Staff Jennifer Carter, who decided not to return from maternity leave.

Robison (pictured), a native of western Oklahoma, was an elementary school teacher in Oklahoma City before becoming an elected official with the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. From there, he joined AFT-Kansas, but later returned to AFT-Oklahoma. He went to the OEA in 2000.

Barresi praised Robison’s dedication to quality teaching in Oklahoma.

“I spent a lot of time visiting with him about my philosophy and he is totally on board with all the initiatives we have in the department. I think he’ll be a big plus for us in working with the Legislature and getting that information out about what we’re doing,” Barresi said.

Robison said he was excited to start in his new position.

“I think that there is a wonderful opportunity with the election of Superintendent Barresi to make some substantive changes that haven’t been on the table for a long, long time,” he said. “I’m a guy who likes to be part of the changes when they happen.”

Union rivalry
Robison’s credentials with the state teachers’ union are not going over well with some conservatives in the education field.

Ginger Tinney, executive director of the group Professional Oklahoma Educators, a conservative teacher union, said the new chief of staff does not line up with the conservative agenda.

“It’s kind of a head-scratcher,” she said. “I think she was elected by conservatives, and most conservatives would not support someone they don’t agree with philosophically.”

However, Barresi said she had engaged in long, candid talks with Robison prior to making the decision, and is confident his beliefs align with her mission to reform public education.

“I took a great deal of care in visiting with him about where I am on things,” she said. “We had some very honest discussions and I can tell you the gentleman is completely in line with what we’re trying to do.”

She added that most of the feedback she’s received on the hiring, especially from legislators, has been positive.

Robison attributes criticism from POE to union competition.

“They’re a rival teacher association to OEA, which I’m leaving employment with,” Robison said. “I suspect their criticism more has to do with their desire to compete with the OEA for teacher members out there than it does with me or Superintendent Barresi.”

 
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