MidTown education reformer launches superintendent bid

By Patrick B. McGuigan

The founder of two Oklahoma City public charter schools, including the first charter public school in Oklahoma, has announced her candidacy for state Schools Superintendent. Dr. Janet Baressi, a Republican, promised significant reforms if she is nominated and then elected in 2010.

In an interview with The City Sentinel, Baressi, who had announced her campaign before Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett disclosed her intention to leave office next year, said, “I’ve tried to work inside the system, and that’s necessary. But incremental reform is not getting the job done for Oklahoma. We’ve got to get our children ready for the coming century with sweeping reforms of our educational system.”

Baressi promised major proposals to improve state academic standards, applying national and international criteria and working with districts to make teaching more effective in state classrooms.

Complete details of Baressi’s announcement and listing of top campaign priorities can be found on this week’s education page of The City Sentinel.

“We will have a new, more transparent and more accurate accountability system for the state. Numbers have to be reported truthfully and honestly,” Baressi said. She promised a more “user-friendly” state Department of Education, saying the agency is “almost adversarial with districts at times.”

Dr. Baressi characterized herself as “a proponent of choice in all forms. I believe when you have options, teaching and learning is better for students, teachers and for parents. Oklahoma schools have to be better, and students should have opportunities to be the best they can be.” As founder of two Oklahoma City charter schools (Independence Charter Middle School and Harding Charter Prep High School, formerly Independence Charter High) with strong records of student achievement, Baressi is knowledgeable about charter systems, which have developed strong bi-partisan support nationally.

Baressi earned her bachelor’s degree in education, then earned a master’s degree in speech pathology. She spent several years in teaching before becoming a dentist. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she has been active in public education reform since the early 1990s. While concentrating on the success of the charter schools she founded, Baressi participated in vision meetings for the local KIDS (Keep Improving District Schools) Project throughout the 1990s, working with a bi-partisan group of community leaders and educators.

Asked about practical political issues, including her campaign budget, Baressi said, “To get our message out will require paid media and we will use every single bit of money we’re able to raise. We will do what we need to do in terms of fundraising to win this race.”

Baressi is the mother of twin sons. For more than two decades, she ran a successful dentistry practice. Her husband John, a north Oklahoma City businessman, passed away several months ago after a long illness.

Baressi believes 2010 will be “the right kind of year” to advance her message to voters. She added her record in city public education demonstrates an ability to work with Democrats and with some who have different views on education reform. “When the focus is on building greater opportunities for children, it’s easier to bring together all factions. When that is the focus, education reform is not partisan or divisive.”