Editor’s Notebook: Cathy’s grace, AJ touts progress reducing juvenile incarceration, Anastasia looks at Kindergarten preparation

OKLAHOMA CITY – From the editor’s notebook, Cathy Costello gracefully accepted her husband’s replacement at the Oklahoma Department of Labor, AJ Griffin applauded lower incarceration rates for youthful offenders, and Anastasia Pittman led scrutiny of pre-school policies. 

Early this month, Governor Mary Fallin appointed a close aide to Attorney General Scott Pruitt to an important statewide elected position  

Cathy Costello, widow of Oklahoma’s slain Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello, issued a statement shortly after Fallin announced her choice. 

Costello said:

“[O]n what would be his 60th birthday, I received word that Melissa McLawhorn Houston has been appointed by Governor Mary Fallin to serve the unexpired term of my late husband Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello. The governor graciously contacted me in advance that she had decided to not appoint me as his replacement and I respect her decision.

“I believe that it is important for the people to have a strong voice as their Labor Commissioner and I am confident that the department will always strive to meet the needs of the people. Going forward, I remain committed to serving the people of Oklahoma and I look forward to working with the legislature and all of those who have supported me and our family during this ordeal to move our state forward.”

Another female conservative Republican leader, a state Senator, has touted more than a decade of work reducing incarceration of young Oklahomans. 

The state office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) says  between 1997 and 2013 Oklahoma’s juvenile incarceration rate decreased between 40 and 49 percent.

“That’s a significant improvement for our state, but that same study shows despite that change, we need to do a better job of getting youthful offenders on the right track, staying crime free, doing well in school and ultimately getting jobs,” said Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie, who distributed the information to reporters via a recent state Senate press release.

Court of Criminal Appeals Judge David Lewis, Janelle Bretten of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs and Justin Jones, Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau director, the press release said, traveled to Austin where they “met with counterparts from around the country … to examine the latest data and learn how other states are using the information to guide policy and funding decisions to reduce recidivism and improve other youth outcomes.”  

Organized by the Council of State Governments (CSG), a forum explored the theme, “Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: 

A 50-State Forum.” The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the OJJDP provided support for the event, which focused on “proven, effective strategies.”

“By reducing recidivism, we can save countless millions in public dollars in the cost of law enforcement and corrections while helping them become productive citizens,” Griffin said. “The bottom line here is that in terms of human capital-turning those lives around and helping young men and women succeed within their schools, their communities and in our state-we have a tremendous opportunity to move Oklahoma forward.”

In other news from the Senate and from the other side of the aisle, State Sen. Anastasia A. Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, in late October conducted an interim study focused on school preparedness for kindergarten students. 

Pittman said the session explored “many areas of discussion … as we seek to understand what challenges our children must overcome to be ready to enter kindergarten and be successful in school,” said Pittman.

“Many children face deficiencies in developmental and motor skill sets as well as social and emotional challenges upon entering kindergarten,” she observed. 

The study boosted efforts “to dig deeper into the root causes of those roadblocks and begin to build bridges to meet the gap.”

Among several presenters who provided supporting information, from various state agencies and organizations, were Kayla Hindman — State Department of Education, Carter Kimble – State Health Department, Stacy Dykstrera — Smart Start, and Pat Potts — Potts Family Foundation. 

Pittman has gathered information about early education preparedness through three “think tank” meetings she led. A fourth meeting is scheduled for this month.

Community leaders, parents, teachers, home school educators, and other interested groups have participated in the think tank forums to collaborate on a vision of the future for the curriculum in Oklahoma’s school system.

In a press release from Senate staff, Sen. Pittman said the study was “the first step suggested by our monthly educational think tank participants. 

The goal is to share with the public the information we discover regarding Oklahoma requirements for our children being prepared for kindergarten and then create a plan to bring the vision to fruition.  

“By identifying the most significant challenges in kindergarten preparedness through the interim study, our hope is to create a diverse and inclusionary program that will serve students equally across the state. I’m optimistic that the ideas generated, coupled with the information we [gathered] at the kindergarten preparedness interim study, will enable us to unite to ensure our schools are consistently providing all students with the best education possible.”

The interim was open to the public and encouraged community leaders, local pastors, teachers, retired educators, and daycare administrators to attend.      

The interim study met October 27 at the State Capitol.

The fourth educational “think tank” meeting, Pittman said, will be Tuesday, November 24 at 3 p.m. More information concerning the Interim Study’s results and the upcoming meeting is available from Sen. Pittman’s office at (405) 521-5531 or by email: pittman@oksenate.gov.  

NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.