Karl Springer has served almost three years as the Superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools. For the past decade, that’s a record. For years the position was a revolving door, with superintendents being ousted at amazing speeds, one even resigning in the face of a corruption scandal. But Springer must have the touch, because his name is still on the door. In his short time as superintendent, he’s introduced a number of progressive and new ideas to Oklahoma City schools, including the continuous learning calendar. He refers to himself as “Lead Teacher for the Oklahoma City Public School District.”
Oklahoma Magazine: Everyone has opinions about education: why it works, why it doesn’t; what needs to be fixed, what doesn’t. What’s your big deal with Oklahoma City Public Schools? What does Karl Springer see as priorities?
Karl Springer: What we need to do first is change the culture of the school district and also the expectations of the community about how our students are going to perform academically. There’s nothing wrong with the students. We need to work to provide a structured environment and create expectations for our students and help them to be successful.
OM: If a student travels from start to finish through our public school system, what are some of the things he should have when he leaves and goes out into the real world?
KS: Our students should be ready for careers and colleges when they graduate from our comprehensive high schools. I think that they need to be critical thinkers. They need to have very developed abilities to communicate – in writing and verbally. They need to be able to solve problems with groups of people. They should be good citizens that make good decisions for the future of this country. They should have a well-rounded education so that when they graduate from high school, their potential is up to them.
OM: Were you ever suspended or expelled from high school?
KS: Not in high school, but in elementary school I was suspended five times.
OM: An early troublemaker?
KS: Actually, in high school, too, now that I think about it. I really liked school. But I had a tendency to pull pranks that weren’t good.
OM: I won’t ask you to elaborate.
KS: I hope you don’t ask me to elaborate.
OM: You’ve been superintendent for almost three years now. Looking back, what are some of the district’s biggest accomplishments during that time?
KS: I feel that the culture of our district is changing. We’re implementing a continuous learning calendar, where we’re going to shrink the length of the summer and give children more opportunities to be remediated.
The expansion of our pre-K program this fall is also a good sign. We now have 100 percent of our students in full-day kindergarten. Our movement to make our secondary programs more rigorous, making our students more into subject mastery and problem solving and less into skill and drill behavior. Those are the kinds of things that are going to have a long-lasting effect on schools.
OM: How long will it take before we start seeing a serious impact from Oklahoma City’s new continuous learning program?
KS: I would hope this next school year. The idea is to take the summer and spread it out over the school year. During those new breaks or intercessions, we’ll bring in students that need to be remediated. We’ll give them the help that they need early in the school year, not waiting until the end of the school year when it’s really too late for them. We’re giving them a just-in-time remediation. I’m hoping this has an effect, but I think it’ll snowball, too, as we use it year after year. We’re one of the only school districts in the U.S. where the whole district is on the continuous learning calendar all year. It’s going to be more of a continuous calendar with opportunities for children all year round to learn and grow.