BY W. ROGER WEBB | Published: June 6, 2012 | The Daily Oklahoman
This summer’s movie blockbuster is “The Avengers” with its storyline about an assembling of the world’s superheroes called together to rescue the planet from evil forces. Another blockbuster kicks off this week on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma where real-life superheroes, 2,000 of Oklahoma’s best teachers, assemble to help rescue our schools from the forces of mediocrity and dwindling resources.
They are part of the Oklahoma Great Expectations program. Great Expectations, now in its 21st year, is the vision of Charlie Hollar. Charlie, a retired businessman from Ponca City, was troubled by findings of President Ronald Reagan’s “Commission on the Status of Education in America: A Nation at Risk.” The 1985 study warned of the “rising tide of mediocrity in our nation’s schools.” The report bluntly stated that “if an unfriendly power had attempted to impose upon America this mediocre education performance it might be viewed as an act of war.”
Not surprisingly, most of the education establishment ignored the warnings and calls for reform. But not Charlie — he went to battle for our schools.
Charlie Hollar believed schools could never be better than the teachers who taught our children. He said, “Teachers should be celebrated, encouraged and given the access to the quality of professional education that was available to business executives.” He worked with many of the top state and national education leaders and developed Great Expectations.
Since its inception in 1999, more than 40,000 teachers have been trained under the program. Many teachers and principals return year after year to learn from top mentor teachers and recharge their batteries. Great Expectations classes are now offered in Dallas, Houston, Bay City, Mich., and Dayton, Ohio.
It is interesting that a non-educator could have a greater impact on Oklahoma’s schools over a 20-year period than any elected or appointed education official. The success of Great Expectations is a tribute to the power of one with a passion for education and concern for the future of our children.
A year ago, Charlie was called to work in a higher kingdom. His legacy remains and this summer his Great Expectations “Avengers” will answer the call as they return to re-energize and revive their battle fighting ignorance, indifference and the ever-rising “tide of mediocrity.” We, too, must confront the brutal truth that we are losing this war — as the education levels in other countries rise, the United States’ education ranking now has sunk to 14th in the world.
We must support innovators like Charlie and his successor Linda Dzialo, as well as Jean Hendrickson of Oklahoma A+ Schools, who, though they may deviate from the traditional education fare, offer creative approaches and bold ideas that challenge our teachers, and in turn our students, to be their best. The future of our children depends on it.
Webb is president emeritus of the University of Central Oklahoma.