Frankly, my job can become as dry as an overcooked turkey when I focus on the wrong things, but I am fortunate enough to work with truly exceptional people who remind me how blessed I am to be superintendent of Lawton Public Schools. This week, I saw a glimpse of LPS through their eyes. Their experiences in LPS are diverse and impressive, and they remind me of the importance of our mission.
Lawton is a military town, full of military children, yet we cannot all see the world from their perspectives. Unless someone grows up as a military child, they cannot understand – not teachers or parents or spouses, no matter how much they try. One of our teachers, Jennifer Hanna, has devoted her doctoral dissertation to understanding the unique experiences of military children: Invisible Minority: Military-Connected Adolescents in Secondary Schools. Ms. Hanna (soon to be Dr. Hanna) allowed Assistant Superintendent Jamie Polk and me the opportunity to read her dissertation. We were supposed to guide her, but she taught us more than we could imagine.
We pass military children in the hall every day, but after reading Ms. Hanna’s work, I will never see these students the same way again. They share a culture and a lifestyle that shapes them into the most amazing people. Even better than the research, however, was listening to Jennifer talk about her students. Her words wrapped around her kids so tenderly that I could feel the warmth. She loves her students in the most sincere and indescribable way, the way a teacher loves. I have never read a piece of scholarly research born of deeper devotion. This happened Tuesday afternoon.
Then on Thursday morning, Shoemaker Center gathered to honor educators who have achieved significant service milestones in the district with service pins. It happens this time of year all around the district, and this year, six people in Shoemaker received pins for 20 to 45 years of service to our community. Once again, they showed me our district in a new light.
Gary Dees, our district Athletic Director, received his 20-year pin. He invested 19 of those years at Eisenhower Middle School as a teacher and assistant principal, reaffirming his solid and reliable reputation. Kathy Kennedy also earned her 20-year pin. She started as a teaching assistant and worked her way up to Shoemaker’s curriculum department. Jamie Polk started as a teacher in Westwood Elementary before becoming a nationally-recognized elementary principal. Twenty-five years later, she leads our schools as Assistant Superintendent. Along the way, she worked with Delores Anderson, who just earned her 30-year pin. Ms. Anderson now oversees our online applicant portal but started as a cafeteria manager. Sheila Relf, our district Purchasing Manager, was also honored with 30 years of experience. Like many, Ms. Relf started in the classroom as a teacher’s assistant. The person recognized with the longest service to Lawton Public Schools, however, was Barbara Ellis with 45 years of service. During her tenure, she has held no fewer than a dozen titles from teacher to her current position as Assistant Superintendent of Business Services. This level of dedication is rare in any organization.
I could not have asked for a better week right before Thanksgiving, for these educators refreshed and inspired me. I saw the impact of kindness to a military child, and I heard from the men and women of Shoemaker Center who stand as the district’s blast-shields, protecting our students and staff from more fire and heat than anyone will ever know. LPS is the heart of the Lawton-Fort Sill community, and after this week I can affirm that it is beating with passion and purpose. May we all be so blessed this Thanksgiving.