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Out of school

After five years, OKC schools Superintendent Karl Springer leaves to pursue other interests.

Tim Farley August 14th, 2013

When a new geography teacher named Karl Springer stepped into his Muskogee junior high classroom back in 1977, his entire life changed. The former U.S. Marine captain had entered a realm far from the military’s rigidness and and snap-to discipline.

Karl Springer will leave OKC Public Schools at the end of August.
Credit: Mark Hancock

Thirty-six years later, he has no regrets.

“No experience, outside the birth of my children, has been as unbelievable as being able to teach that first day. It changed everything,” he said in a recent interview.

The 65-year-old Springer is retiring as superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools at the end of the month. He said he will pursue other interests but vows to remain an advocate for schoolchildren.

Those plans don’t include running for elected office, by the way.

“Oh no,” he replied when asked about such a possibility. “I’ve been out there enough.”

Strengths, weaknesses
Over the past five years heading the state’s largest school district, Springer has worked to improve facilities and programs, some of that momentum due to to 2001’s voter-approved MAPS for Kids initiative. Bond issues enhanced extracurricular activities such as band and vocal music, fine arts and sports; and some administrators have earned national awards for their work.

And his five years as superintendent is in itself a feat in a position not especially known for longevity. In the 10 years before his arrival in Oklahoma City, the district had gone through eight superintendents, both permanent and interim.

Still, Springer has weathered his share of problems. Last October, Frederick A. Douglass Mid-High School principal Brian Staples was forced to resign amid a federal investigation into allegations of grade-tampering and poor oversight.

But Springer said his biggest disappointment has been the lack of academic achievement districtwide. Many OKC schools received a “D” or “F” last year on the Oklahoma Department of Education’s controversial school report card. “We need to focus on that and be poised to move that bar,” he said.

While he declined to blame state officials for creating additional headaches, he added that public education is “in reform fatigue.”

“The reforms they seek are noble, but they have been implemented and executed too quickly, without looking at potential consequences,” he said of the school-grading system adopted under state Superintendent Janet Barresi.

The most fun
Springer’s biggest joys, he said, are the times he gets out of the office to visit students in the classroom.

“I would just get in my car on a Wednesday or Thursday, drive to a school ... and have direct contact with the kids. Whoever comes next [as superintendent] needs to focus on that. They will need to focus on what’s good for the kids.”

That might include increasing classroom time, changing scheduling for end-of-instruction testing or focusing on the large numbers of students living in poverty. Nine out of every 10 students in Oklahoma City schools are on the free and reduced lunch program.

Credit: Mark Hancock

Attention also should be given to how Hispanic students are taught, Springer said. According to the latest enrollment information, 48 percent of the district’s students are Hispanic, many of whom are not fluent in English. Springer stressed that non-English-speaking students should not be tested and graded the same way as their English-speaking counterparts.

Moreover, Springer contends another bond issue is necessary to address tornado safe-room construction, a new south OKC elementary, athletic facility upgrades and school remodeling projects.

Prior to his arrival in OKC, Springer served eight years as Mustang superintendent and was an administrator in Chickasha and Norman public schools for six years.

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08.14.2013 at 11:54 Reply

Shame on you Karl Springer. . . you knew long before the scandal was exposed at Douglass High School. . . just had no heart for African American Students.