Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When a Small Town Grasps Its Future

At the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) Summer Leadership Conference 2018, Shannon Vanderburg, superintendent of Frederick Public Schools, when asked if his school had a mentoring program, enthusiastically shared much information and said to contact Lance Bohannon. Lance was encouraged to share Frederick's story as a multi-faceted model for other rural communities. 

In 2006, members of the Frederick Rotary Club were discussing the town’s past and its future. Like so many small, rural, agriculture-based towns in southwest Oklahoma, Frederick had a "golden age" from the 1940s to the 1960s. Now, it seemed the town’s best days were behind it. The question was asked, “If we achieved excellence once, why can’t we now?”  And in a defining moment, a group of Rotarians decided to reach beyond what seemed possible and craft a plan to once again “own” the city’s future.  It wasn’t a matter of asking for permission from the government, or finding grants or benefactors.  It was a matter of identifying and prioritizing those factors that would make people want to live in our town, and raising private, local funds to make those factors real.  We began the hard work of becoming more than we were.

We began with our schools. We believed that people move to different neighborhoods and even to different towns to get their kids into top-tier schools. We believed that we could make Frederick Public Schools a regional magnet. Professional people could continue to work in the three larger cities around us but live in Frederick and put their kids in Frederick Public Schools. The goal for us was to provide a superior education, along with a superior learning experience for our kids…to equip them to compete aggressively and confidently in a big world. Along with that we became intentional about leveraging some of the natural benefits to kids from small-town living…strong identity and accountability, more leadership opportunities, more one-on-one mentoring/teaching access, and greater safety. In 2018, we believe that we are winning.  We can point to one set of factors and four initiatives that have made the difference:

1.  We started with a school administrative team that is extraordinarily gifted in vision, creativity, flexibility, resourcefulness, good management, and integrity.  Shannon Vanderburg is our superintendent; Randy Biggs, our high school principal; Jeremy Newton, our middle school principal; and Kay Cabaniss and Janice Crume, our elementary and pre-k directors. The room for improvement was largely in the faculty. Through natural attrition, well-recruited/vetted hires, and, some believe, a good bit of Providence over a period of about six years, our faculty is now made up (almost entirely) of over-achievers and super-stars.  We treat our teachers as heroes in our town because we know that all they have to do to get healthy pay raises is to drive 30 miles (to Texas). 

2.  We understood that offering a “superior” education meant offering learning opportunities well beyond those required for state and federal compliance. These have fallen into four initiatives:  
A) Big Topics is a weekly discussion group, sponsored by the Rotary Club, for high school students designed to help them develop their skills in critical thinking.  We treat topics that may be controversial or hard to treat inside the classroom:  American exceptionalism, the effect of political correctness on our decision-making, the proper role and scope of government, race, religion, and current events.  It is a privately funded scholarship program that, in seven years, has collected and distributed $70,000 in scholarships. Last year, we introduced the concept into middle school-age kids with a pilot “summer academy” we call “Bomber YELL”.  We began with two hours of lecture/discussion in the morning, followed by lunch and life skills (budgeting, sewing, changing a tire, etc.) in the afternoon, and ending at the municipal swimming pool.  It was more successful than we anticipated, and we continued the initiative into the school year with so many kids signing up for it, we had to offer two sessions.  Two Rotarians lead these initiatives:  Ben Crawford leads Big Topics, and Roxie Hill leads Bomber YELL.    

B) Robotics  - In 2011 a Frederick High School alumnus from the class of 1963 was
Team 7506, Aug. 2018
named the top engineer in the world by the international Society of Automotive Engineers.  Dr. Bob Woods has been a professor of engineering at the University of Texas for over 30 years.  When we asked him if other FHS alums had followed the path that he had blazed his answer was, “No”.  That conversation gave rise to the establishment of a robotics program in Frederick High School that, from its very first year of competition, has earned high honors at state and regional level, beating out bigger, richer, more established schools in specific areas as documentation and programming.  The program has opened the door to a whole new career field for our students that was closed to them before 2011.  Dr. Woods continues to mentor and encourage our students with periodic visits and evaluations. Tom Hensley, a retired air traffic controller from the U.S. Air Force, is our gifted robotics coach.

Clint Reid, FB photo
C)  Art  -  A few years back a young art instructor, Clint Reid, joined the faculty.  Traditionally, art in the district was built largely around art history and some coaching in different media…oils, watercolor, and pencil. Clint introduced a new career path to our kids in graphic arts and commercial design. They have established a money-making business by designing and crafting silk-screened T-shirts and apparel for custom orders. This spring, one of our students was named one of the top ten finalists in the nation for graphic/commercial design.

Carisa Schreiner, FB photo
D) Music – Frederick has a deep musical heritage dating back to the 40s and 50s when the city boasted 13-14 private piano/voice teachers. Frederick schools have been competitive at the district and state levels for many years, but never on such a large scale as now. Carisa Schreiner is the music director for all the schools (working with 400 students/day). Every year, she leads musical productions for both the middle school and the high school. The art department builds the sets, the jazz band provides the accompaniment and the choir perform the roles. Last year, with a total high school population of 200, 120 kids participated in the musical. At district and state competitions FHS “punches above its weight” competing successfully against larger, richer schools. FHS graduates are frequent recipients of music scholarships to colleges and universities.

Performance of Carisa Schreiner's students, FB photo

Concurrently with the initiatives to make our schools a regional magnet, we began an effort to develop a deep bench of young leadership in the community to drive the various projects we needed to ensure the bright future we envisioned. There was an existing effort called Leadership Frederick that we resurrected and re-energized. For many years, much of the leadership in the community had been provided by two extraordinary men who brought talent and resources to the community. Bill Crawford was a regional leader in banking and investments, and Loyd Benson was the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. They, however, had not planned for their own succession. They were very helpful in bringing Leadership Frederick back to life. At the last Chamber of Commerce banquet, I asked Loyd to count the number of heads at the head table that was over 45 years old. There were two…the keynote speaker and his wife. And the room was filled with 30- and 40-somethings who were energized and committed to the vision of making the town better than it is.

In addition to developing young, local leadership, we have been intentional in cultivating the interests and support of Frederick High School alums that live away from Frederick. We have asked them to help with finding solutions to local challenges. We have found they are pleased and complimented to be asked and have contributed both financial and intellectual heft to our projects. The class of 1963 has been unusually generous.      

Twelve years after that original conversation among that group of Rotarians, Frederick has a new confidence and optimism that we can grasp our future, that we can pass along big dreams from a little town. And we believe that our experience can serve as a replicable template for other small towns aspiring to be better than they are. We’d welcome the opportunity to visit with anyone who wants to join us in the satisfying task of re-building our communities and, in fact, the nation.   

Lance Bohannon

Personal communication June 13, 2018  

Some photos from

See Clint Reid's The Tillman Project, his personal artwork

Two visits to Frederick revealed much civic pride, love of its young people and excitement. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Bomber YELL mentees and the community and school people we met.

Monday, September 17, 2018

BEST! Beginnings, Cache, OK

Amber DeWinter, Randy Batt, Rhonda Clemmer
and Shana Mellot
Cache's BEST!, an acronym for Building Extraordinary Students Today, held its first meeting on November 20, 2017, and launched the program at the beginning of the academic year in 2018. Slides follow.

One Recipe for Success of the One-hour Kickoff:

A leader...Rhonda Clemmer, who researches models and best practices, plans, etc.

Community leaders, who will perhaps drive the program and mentor, e.g., potential board members, school officials, pastors, etc. .

Objectives of the one-hour initial meeting:
  • Serve as kickoff.
  • Identify five to seven individuals to serve on the advisory board/committee from this group.
  • Stir some excitement about our initiative and mentoring in general.
  • Provide basic information on how a mentoring program works.
  • Develop a list of potential mentors.

1.  Introduction of our community-school based mentoring initiative.
2.  The makings of an effective mentor program (mentor/mentee relationship, vision/mission of mentoring programs, outcomes expected, stakeholder roles, expectations of mentors, etc. 
3.  Call to action to get involved with as a donor, mentor, or advisor. 

Pre-approval to run the mentoring program under the Cache Schools Education Foundation and support of the school officials 

Completion of a mini-needs assessment to identify the target audience.  

More movers and shakers at the kickoff

David Fritz, David Dorrell and Tammy Fritz

Dr. Bruce Reeder, Teri Reeder, Brad Clemmer and Christy
Taylor, principal of Cache 5th & 6th Grade Center.

Chuck Rettig, Nolan Watson and Jan Watson

Presentation Slides

Thanks to Rhonda Clemmer for her diligent, thoughtful work done with her excellent  business acumen and experience. Congratulations to all who are making this mentoring program a reality and success.

The post of the 2018 Kickoff with mentors and mentees is in a subsequent post.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

OSU All-Stater Reunion Activities, 2018

Food, conversation and activities--a winning recipe!

The Academic All-State Annual Reunion began with food. The "Oklahoma Grill" menu, prepared by OSU's Celebrations Catering, consisted of beef, chicken, loaded mashed potatoes, grilled veggies, fruit, bar cookies--lemon, chocolate and blond--and the famous Cowboy Cookies.

The location was in the Starlight Terrace of the student union. The room had room for activities and games and easels with foam-backed photos of All-State Alumni and Boren Mentoring Initiative collegiate peer mentors. Hint!

Although tables were set up for all expected, as in previous years at OSU, attendees chose to crowd into two tables. As attendees drifted in, everyone made room. Twenty collegians attended, but some had to leave early. 

Early in the event, conversation and eating

Chelsee Lee and Areli Villalobos

The other table's attendees introduce themselves to and meet those at table two.

Attendees are matched up by shoe style, in this case, open toe and covered toe. Then they broke into smaller groups of three or four.

1. Ask "who, what, when, where and why" of each person in order to tell the entire group later. 

Areli, Leah Sander and Haden Glasgow

Josh Anderson (L) and Will West (R) listen to Sarah Oliver

Kate Sander (L), Bethany Niles and Breck Gillespie (R)

Craig "CJ" Boone shares his five with Maison Cook (L) and Amanda Bolinger (R)

CJ, Amanda and Maison

Breck (L), Kate and Bethany (R)

Leah (L), Haden and Areli (R)

Back in a circle, each member identifies the five w's of another person.

CJ, Amanda, Maison and Bethany

Maison, Bethany, Kate, Breck and Leah

Kate, Breck, Leah--counting the w's--Haden and Areli

Other activities in the circle include sharing the best advice and something new each learned. The answers were totally unpredictable.

Leah, Haden, Areli and Sarah

Areli, Sarah, Will, Josh and CJ

Josh Anderson (R) makes a point

The most unexpected response to something new learned was Amanda Bolinger's--the temperature of a cow's rectum!

Physical Activities by Team

1. Passing a Lifesaver with a toothpick while not using hands

Sarah and Haden

Haden and Areli as Josh (L) cheers and coaches

Oh no! The Lifesaver falls to the floor as Areli and Leah compete. Haden (L) and Sarah (with hands up) are totally involved in their team's success. 

CJ has completed the pass to Amanda.

Strategy is everything. Amanda passes to Maison, who bent down to let gravity and elevation work.

Maison starts the pass to Breck.

Breck passes to Bethany.

Will prepares to pass to Josh.

Areli and Haden with Will looking on

2. With no hands, passing a tennis ball 

CJ, passing to Amanda, starts for his team. Laughter inhibits peak performance! Breck (R) 

Leah watches as Areli passes to Josh.

3. Pantyhose, orange and tennis ball race. Using hands or feet to move the ball or orange is forbidden. Yes, some cheated so the referee has to watch.

Maison (L) and Will (R)

Sarah's turn. Deciding technique quickly is challenging.

Sarah employs her hands in the air.

 Is she using her hands?

Breck uses a swinging technique.


Amanda needed a hair tie.

Goal accomplished!

Leah moves forward quickly.


Kate using the swing technique

Fiercely, Haden swings with style and exuberance.

CJ's strategy

4. In a circle, each team has to join hands and pass a hula hoop. First use a larger hoop, then a smaller one.

Winning team for the night!

5. Moon landing survival activity--individual and team scoring

Team I on the floor

Team II at a table

6. Closing photo supporting the Oklahoma Coaches Mentoring Challenge, 2018-19, and youth mentor recruitment

In the photo and attending

OSU's 2018 All-Stater/Boren Mentoring Initiative Reunion, 20 students strong! 
Sarah Oliver (2015, Ardmore) holding the sign in front. 

Behind Sara, Haden Glasgow (2017, Geary), Will West (2018, Stuart); Areli Villalobos (2018, Ponca City), Bethany Niles (2017, Fairview), Josh Anderson (Tulsa Union, 2018) and Maison Cook (2018, Chisholm HS). 

Back: Leah Sander (2018, Cheyenne), Craig "C.J." Boone (2015, Grove), Kate Sander (2015, Cheyenne), Breck Gillespie (2018, Oklahoma Union), and Amanda Bolinger (2018, Beaver). 

Not in the group photo: Chelsea Lee (2016, Okmulgee), Emily Seiler (2018, Elgin), Madison Ellis (2014, Blanchard), Jacob Schoeling (2018, Verdigris), Kaustuvi Thapa (2017, Stillwater), Ashley Howard (2018, Purcell), Hallie Hart (2016, Chandler) and Cathy Mapes, two-year Boren Mentoring Initiative Mentor and sister of OSU graduate and All-Stater Courtney Mapes of Alva.