For Daniel Craig, who became district superintendent of Kingfisher Public Schools in May, his new job is also a homecoming.
“I’m a hometown guy coming back, and I’ve just got so many great memories of the town and school district,” Craig said in a recent phone conversation with NonDoc.
Craig graduated from Kingfisher High School in 1989 and started his career in the education sector in 1996 at Tecumseh Public Schools, where he taught middle-school history and coached football, wrestling and tennis. Craig went on to serve as the pre-K through 12th grade principal and athletic director at Sasakwa Public Schools, in Seminole County, before heading to work at the state level in 2001.
For the past 20 years, Craig has served in positions within the Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Most recently, he served as executive director of the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability before being starting as superintendent of Kingfisher Schools on May 17.
“I want to empower the people that are here — my principals, my teachers, my central office staff — to go out and find where we’re weak, tell me how they think we can make it better and then I can see what I can do to help implement these ideas,” Craig said. “What I’ve learned is your best experts are your boots on the ground. It’s the people in the classrooms, cafeteria, cleaning the floors and running reports that really know what’s going on, and they have good ideas if you ask them.”
The following conversation with Craig is presented as a Q&A, in which he discusses priorities for the district, his plans for pandemic recovery and what he believes makes Kingfisher Public Schools special.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and style.
How do you think your past experience will translate to your new position?
I have a lot of experience in accreditation. I was a regional accreditation officer at the State Department of (Education). I was the north central director back when they had a north central office. We did what was called “school performance reviews” at [the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability]. So, I’ve got a lot of consulting experience looking at loss, standards, finances, child nutrition, transportation, board relations and technology.
I can bring a lot of that experience of what I’ve seen in hundreds of other school districts around the state and out of state, too. When I served as north central director, I was on accreditation teams on reservations in Wyoming, Florida, Arkansas, all these different places — so I can bring some of that national knowledge.
I’m hoping I can bring that state-level experience to see things that have been done really well, see things that need work and then see how that translates to Kingfisher.
What are some of your first priorities as superintendent of the district?
When I first got here, the biggest thing for me was that I wanted to get out into every building. Some of them I haven’t been in since I was in third or fourth grade. I printed out the names of every single staff member we have, and I’m trying to talk to every single one. I’ve just tried to sit down with every person I can so they can tell me who they are, what they do, things they’re proud about in the district and things they think we can tweak or make better.
Starting in July, a lot of it is going to be looking at the budget and getting it prepared to present to the board early in the fall, and getting an idea about what our revenues and expenditures are going to be. I also really want to take a look at our test data and our demographic data on our school profiles and our report cards and work up a presentation for the entire staff to give people a snapshot of the history of the district.
What do you foresee being the greatest needs of your students regarding pandemic recovery? How does the district plan to meet these needs?
For the most part, [district staff] kept everybody in school five days a week and really powered through the pandemic. Our Return to Learn Plan that we posted on our website sets us up so that we’re all going to be back in school, and we’ll continue to monitor the pandemic and continue to watch our numbers. We’ve got plans to send people home, contact trace, quarantine and anything else we need.
A lot of it is going to be looking at if we lost anything last year. Do we need to re-teach things? Did the students still get what they needed? We need to make sure we’re meeting the needs of everybody, even though they were still in school last year.
The State Department (of Education) awarded us a counseling grant, so we’re going to hire three more mental health and school counselors. The pandemic was trying on everyone, so a big part of recovery is going to be the mental health and the well-being of our kids. I think with [the School Counselor Corps grant], we can monitor how students did emotionally, mentally and academically and determine if we need to make tweaks somewhere.
What programs at Kingfisher Public Schools are you most proud of?
Academically, we’ve done really well, but our test scores don’t always reflect everything being done. We’ve got some great programs at the elementary school. This year, we’re starting a dyslexia program, and that meets all the state requirements that have passed in the last few years about dyslexia. We’re going to hire some reading specialists and assistant reading specialists to really focus on those younger grades and the literacy piece, phonics piece and reading piece. We’ve got a new junior high building that’s going to open up later this fall that will be the newest building in the district. It’s a great facility.
I really feel like any of our programs — whether it’s band, choir or athletics — I really can’t say enough about them. They’re all great.
What makes Kingfisher Public Schools unique?
It’s that right size where everybody feels like they belong somewhere. We’ve got great community support. Bond issues have passed with no problem, everybody comes to the games, everybody comes to the band contests. Everybody’s involved — the parents are involved, the board’s very involved.
As I traveled around as an accreditation person and doing school performance reviews, there were a lot of districts I went to and tried to help with that didn’t get much community support. We’ve got 5,000 people in the community that really support the school, and I’d say that’s what makes it so good.
Since I’ve been back, every day has been like a surreal class reunion. Everybody has come up to say, “Hey, Dan, we’re glad you’re here.” And I think that’s just that great community support. They’ve always had that, even when I was 5 or 6 years old here. Kingfisher’s a place you want to be.