Superintendent Sandy Garrett will not seek sixth term

From CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

The only Oklahoma woman ever elected to five consecutive terms in statewide public office has announced she will not seek a sixth term as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Sandy Garrett, the nation’s second longest serving state schools superintendent, will not seek re-election in 2010.

“There’s an old saying in politics that ‘nothing is ever over.’ That’s certainly true in education,” Garrett said in her statement sent to The City Sentinel. “The fight for education excellence is never ending, and I plan to continue to be involved. It just won’t be from the position of state superintendent. The challenges and rewards of this job are beyond belief. I want to continue to be of service where and when I can, even after I leave office in January 2011.”

Garrett said, “It has been an incredible experience; but now it’s time for someone else. My commitment to children and excellence in education is no less than it has ever been, but the time has come for me to take a different role.”

Garrett supported expansion of public school choice, including the historic Charter School law that led to creation of several of the state’s most successful tax-funded schools, in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Garrett drew praise for sincerity and dedication from members of both political parties, including from some critics in the Legislature.

Democratic state party chairman Todd Goodman, in his statement to The City Sentinel, said fellow Democrats were “saddened to hear that State Superintendent Sandy Garrett will not be seeking re-election in 2010. Superintendent Garrett has worked to ensure that a generation of Oklahomans could obtain a quality public education. She fought for safer schools, more rigorous classroom standards and the resources to give every child the opportunity to succeed. We are grateful for her 20 years of service.”

Former Commissioner of Labor Brenda Reneau, a Republican whose 12 years in office overlapped with three of Garrett’s five terms, praised her as “a dedicated public servant who loves children.” Reneau told The City Sentinel Garrett was “progressive in her approach to relations with other state officials and other agencies, finding ways to collaborate for shared objectives.” Reneau also used the word “progressive” to describe Garrett’s use of technological advances on the education agency’s website.

Reneau and Garrett joined forces on Playground Safety programs, including production of a calendar featuring student-drawn posters stressing proven practices for protecting children. “I am sorry she’s not going to be there. It will be sad without her” at the state Education Department, Reneau said. Calling Garrett a friend and cherished colleague in elected office, Reneau concluded, “Sandy served well. Her selfless dedication to public service is a blessing. I admire her and appreciate her.”

The superintendent is not only the CEO for the state Department of Education, but also chair of the State Board of Education, State Board of Career and Technology Education, and a member of the board of regents for the Regional University System of Oklahoma. Garrett serves on 19 constitutional and statutory boards and commissions, and is currently serving by appointment on more than 75 other boards, commissions and task forces. Garrett said, “I wanted to make the announcement … early enough to allow qualified candidates time to consider the challenges of serving as state superintendent.”

Born in Muskogee and a graduate from Stilwell High School, Garrett received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northeastern State, and both principal and superintendent certification at the University of Oklahoma. She pursued postgraduate studies at both OU and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

After 15 years as a teacher and gifted programs coordinator at Hilldale Public Schools in Muskogee, she joined the State Department of Education as gifted and talented programs coordinator before being named executive director of education programs, which included rural education, technology, satellite instruction, and library resources.

An outspoken advocate for children and an active participant in education reform, Garrett played a pivotal role in implementing the state’s learning by satellite program and in establishing an interactive fiber-optic instruction system in the Panhandle in the 1980s. In 1988, she was named Cabinet Secretary of Education by then-Governor Henry Bellmon, a Republican.

In 1990, she became the only woman in Oklahoma history elected to the constitutional office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In November 2006, she became the only Oklahoma woman elected to a statewide office for a fifth consecutive term. She has supported development of pre-kindergarten programs, and in 2008, she was named national chair of the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Early Childhood Task Force.

“I’m proud of our accomplishments in education in the last two decades at the Department, as well as with the career-tech and the regional universities system,” said Superintendent Garrett. In disclosing her decision not to seek reelection, said the agency she runs “has downsized operational costs by 48.2 percent and personnel costs by 33.4%, FY1991 to FY2010.” She manages a budget of more than $2.5 billion that is distributed to public schools and for which local boards of education are held accountable. 

Garrett advanced standards-based reform with Oklahoma’s first statewide core curriculum and aligned state tests in the early 1990s. She led implementation of Oklahoma’s Education Reform and Funding Act of 1990 (House Bill 1017), the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and the state’s Achieving Classroom Excellence Act of 2005. An early member of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, Garrett helped implement National Board Certification. Only four states have more nationally certified teachers as a percentage of the teaching workforce. Since 2007, Garrett has pursued time reform initiatives, including work with the National Center on Time and Learning, supported by the Broad Foundation, to increase the quality of time spent in schools.

Sandy Garrett was inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame (2001) and the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame (2000).  She is a member of the Northeastern State University Alumni Association Hall of Fame and, in 2000, received the First Lady’s Leadership in Literacy award for her statewide efforts to improve reading instruction for children and expand literacy programs for adults. In 2009, she received the Vision Award from the Teachers of the Year Association.

“We’ve gone from rotary dial phones and typewriters to a digital world with more than 95 percent of Oklahoma classrooms connected to the Internet during the time I have been in office,” Garrett said.  “I am confident Oklahoma’s progress will continue.”