Not long ago, someone quipped, “Same old Lawton!” I cannot remember who said it or why, but they did not sound complimentary. I have heard those words or the equivalent ever since coming to Lawton nearly six years ago. The phraseology may change, but the message is the same: what do you expect . . . why are you surprised . . . that’s just Lawton! I could not agree more. This may be a brand-new year, but indeed, this is the same old Lawton.
The stories I heard about Lawton before coming here followed certain templates. Someone’s cousin or a friend of a friend once lived here. An aunt completed basic training here. They might have driven through or visited the Refuge or Fort Sill. I heard lots of impressions and rumors but very little information. Since the Tulsa and OKC metro areas dominate the news cycles for the rest of Oklahoma, very little news gets out about Lawton unless it is salacious.
When I arrived, I heard more of the same talk from many locals who were not shy about telling me what to expect, “After all, this is Lawton, and Lawton will never change!” After six years, I consider myself a Lawtonian, and I hope they are right about “the same old Lawton,” because the same old Lawton began six years ago for me, and I do not want it to change. I have never witnessed anything but a supportive, proactive, and compassionate community.
When I first arrived for an interview, I drove past a building that would make any community proud, the recently constructed Central Middle School (CMS). Not a bad first impression, but it got better when I attended the Freedom Elementary ground-breaking on Fort Sill. I will never forget the giant flag unfurled between two ladder trucks. Both projects mostly benefitted military and inner-city children, which spoke volumes about this city. These were two of my first impressions as an incoming superintendent, so what else could I expect from Lawton?
During my introductory tours with Superintendent Beauchamp, I walked through entirely new wings on EHS and LHS and a renovated gym at MHS. I saw the new additions to Pioneer Park, Cleveland, Woodland Hills, and Crosby Park. He showed me shiny new activity buses that had been ordered. District-wide fiber-optic cabling was being installed to bring the district into the digital age. These were all the results of the first bond election in over 30 years, a ten-year plan to move our community forward. Why would I be surprised; it was just Lawton?
Prior to coming to Lawton, I heard that Lawton did not support its schools. Education was not important. Those messages were reinforced by many locals upon my arrival, but none of this lined up with what I observed. I joined a community that supported its schools financially with over $50 million in sales tax and bond measures from 2004 to 2010. This led to another $35 million from Washington to build Freedom Elementary.
All of these things happened before I became superintendent, the work of current and former LPS educators, administrators, and board members. None of it was possible without the strong support of parents and community members. The pattern has only continued, and the momentum increased since I joined a community that has faithfully supported its schools and its children.
I hear rumors and tales about another version of Lawton, but I have never experienced it. For me and many others, we cannot imagine anything else, so as 2019 starts, I expect nothing other than the “same old, same old.” Obviously, I tend to focus more on educational issues, but this is a community thing, not limited to LPS. So next week, we will explore all sorts of blessings that have become routine and normal in Lawton-Fort Sill, not only for the schools. And God willing, this really will be a brand-new year . . . in the same old Lawton.