Norman school board runoff
From left to right, Annette Price and Kathleen Kennedy are competing in the Norman School Board Office 3 runoff on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Provided)

Oklahoma’s Valentine’s Day elections were the second of three election days that have already taken place in 2023, and they primarily dealt with schools.

In Norman, Annette Price and Kathleen Kennedy advanced to an April 4 runoff for Office 3 of the Norman Public Schools Board of Education. The two garnered 41.99 percent of the vote and 28.5 percent of the vote, respectively, beating Gary Barksdale and Kini Vaughn.

On Feb. 14, NPS voters also approved a bond package totaling about $354 million. Both candidates for the Office 3 board seat said the implementation of the projects funded by that bond will be major issues over the next decade.

“It’s a 10-year bond, which is different from the typical five-year bonds that we usually pass,” Price said. “And so transparency and strict financial oversight are key for the next school board member, because we have to remain nimble with the funds that the district has to spend on kids.”

With the bond proposal passing, most school sites in Norman will see construction projects renovating or improving facilities.

The big item in the bond proposals is a new stand-alone facility for an Oklahoma Aviation Academy at Max Westheimer Airport. The construction will help NPS develop a budding aviation program for students in the district.

“We have the opportunity to continue growing amazing programs. The bond issue that we just passed in Norman has that aviation program in it, and it’s one of a kind in the nation,” Kennedy said. “I think this is an amazing time to take the lead and be the leader and put Norman back in the top of the state and of the country.”

The NPS School Board’s Office 3 district spans east of the railroad tracks and north of Alameda Street.

‘A 360-degree view on education’

Both candidates touted their backgrounds as reasons for their potential success helping to lead the district.

Price has been heavily involved with Norman Public Schools PTA, serving as president of the Wilson Elementary and Longfellow Middle School PTAs and president of Norman’s overall PTA council, according to her website. Additionally, Price previously worked for the Oklahoma State Department of Education doing communications, and she currently works for OU as a public relations and outreach coordinator in the National Weather Center.

“That was incredibly beneficial for me — my time at the State Department of Education. I got a chance to travel around the state and document a lot of the innovative education practices going on at different districts,” Price said. “It truly is my greatest hope that the new state superintendent follows the path of successful past state superintendents — relying on evidence-based practices and coalition building. And that involves seeking out and embracing ideas from lots of different parents, educators and community members to make decisions that put kids first.”

Price said her extensive education experience will give her a unique perspective on the NPS board.

“I have a 360-degree view on education,” Price said. “I have been an educator, a teacher in the classroom, I’ve worked at that state level (…). I’m a small business owner with a focus on increasing literacy in the community. I was president of the Norman PTA Council and had leadership roles in PTA for over a decade. I was on the state PTA board. And so, I bring a lot of different lenses with me to the school board, and I think that’s important because we need a lot of different viewpoints.”

Kennedy also referenced her education experience as reason for voters to support her. She holds an accreditation in public relations and has worked in public school communications for more than 20 years.

“I have solid leadership and experience with schools. I think more so than my opponent, I have a knowledge of policy and procedure,” Kennedy said. “I know how to work with school attorneys. I understand crisis communication. I know what parent engagement looks like and how to get it and make it happen.”

Kennedy is the president of the Oklahoma Center for Communications and Engagement. According to her bio, Kennedy eases “superintendent and administrator burdens by helping school districts communicate effectively. (…) Kennedy’s passion is promoting and advancing public education for all children.”

Kennedy said she decided to run because she wants to give back to Norman.

“I’ve been serving public schools for 23 years,” Kennedy said. “And this is another way that I can serve my community. It’s just an extension of what I’m already doing. I’ve lived in Norman for over 25 years. I just feel like it’s the next place that I’m being called by my heart and that’s to serve the kids of Norman and the teachers of Norman.”

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Learning loss and book bans remain issues

In addition to the bond, Price mentioned student learning loss caused by the pandemic as a reason she decided to run for a seat on the NPS board.

“Public education should serve all students and every child should feel safe at school and have the opportunity to learn and grow. Stronger schools make a stronger Norman,” Price said. “And I think the top issue that we really need to be focused on is the pandemic learning gap. That pandemic learning gap is real. It’s interrupted routines and structure that children need to thrive. It’s created more duties and extended the unofficial workday for teachers and staff. It goes beyond the classroom. So, we need to be focused on academics and ways to accelerate learning for students.”

Both candidates also discussed Norman’s recent issues with HB 1775, a controversial new law which bans the teaching of certain concepts of race and gender and which has caused tension over library books.

“Books and reading are so important,” Price said. “They’re the gateway to all disciplines in academics. Book bans are toxic for education. They hamper the work of teachers, they shortchange our students, and they limit our intellectual horizons. But at the same time, we need to make sure that age-appropriate material is available for our students, and a lot of that comes from exercising local control so that local community members can be making those decisions, our district educators can be making those decisions.”

Kennedy also echoed a similar sentiment about school library books.

“I am not in favor of an outright ban of books,” Kennedy said. “I think that we need age-appropriate books for children in our schools.”

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 4. Early voting runs March 30 and 31 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.