Interview w/ MPS Superintendent Romines on Black Lives Matter, Moore War 2020 & More
Question and Answer with Dr. Romines about current topics via Zoom
On June 30, JagWire Editor Kenny Kim asked Moore Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Romines about topical questions from the Westmoore community.
Q: Many have called for ethnic studies (e.g. African studies) within the curriculum that is not just an elective. Could this realistically be a possibility in the near future?
A: It could be. David Burton, Social Studies/Business Ed Coordinator, oversees the curriculum for secondary social studies. He has already started having a conversation with our Dean of Academics, Shannon Thompson, in regards to what it might look like. I don’t know if that is something we will be able to implement immediately. Here’s the reasons why: several factors.
The biggest issue will be funding. As we move into this next year with COVID-19 and the state deficit in funding— I don’t know what that’s going to look like but it’s coming— because the economy is not strongest at this point and we’re one of the first ones to be hit. Creating a new curriculum and hiring teachers to teach it will have an expense associated with that.
There’s a really good chance that we’ll do some studies and look at that over this next year about what that looks like and who’s going to teach it. Another thing that we got to be honed in and focused on is students that are interested in enrolling in the courses. If we only have five students enrolled in a course, that offering doesn’t make— but absolutely. There are always options in terms of the curriculum. It will probably be something more of an elective because we are bound by the state on what students need to graduate.
Q: A question has been hot on the minds of the Class of 2021… will Moore War be cancelled?
A: It depends on what the COVID-19 cases look like. It’s three of my favorite events are at the beginning of the football season, whether it be Moore War, Southwest Showdown, and Battle of the Big Cats. They start off my school year in a really great way. We will do what we can in our power to make that happen. That’s a community event. It’s not just our students. It’s our ball clubs and our parents. The community in Moore loves those three games. Hopefully, we can make that happen.
Q: As students tell their stories of racism and discrimination at school, it appears to be about the same staff members continuously being racist. What efforts have been taken for teachers to be more sensitive towards racial issues in addition to efforts for accountability for who have said/done hateful things?
A: Basically, what we are looking at now is sitting down and developing some type of training or required training that our teachers and staff go through. There’s going to have to be something, whether it be a monthly panel of students that we put together and we send that out just to our staff. Again, I have learned by listening and understanding the stories of individuals and that type of thing— not to say that everybody learns the way I do— but sitting down and listening where people are coming from. Again, from all different groups. It’s from our white population. It’s from our black population or Asian, Hispanic, and Native American. There’s a lot of stories that need to be told. I think our staff needs to hear that directly from individuals to better understand where they’re coming from.
In regard to staff members being continuously racist, that’s going hard to comment on because I’m not aware of any particular staff member, but my hope is that that’s not occurring, and, if it is, that needs to be investigated. I’m not aware of that continued business going on with any particular employee.
Q: Lots of people in the community have criticized MPS for remaining silent. Why (at the time of writing) hasn’t MPS released a public statement about the BLM movement?
A: One of the things that I wanted to accomplish prior to putting a statement out was getting an understanding of where our students and our staff were in regards to a statement. I’m going to be honest with you; if I would have put a statement out prior to listening and having those conversations with individuals, I don’t know if that statement would have been a true picture of what we were actually looking at.
Fortunately, we have a really, really great board of education. It’s a five-member board. At our June Board meeting, they adopted a resolution to support and encourage equality for all students and staff. It’s one of the very first Boards of Education in the state to do that. We shared that with our community via social media platforms. There will be more to come in regards to updates. There was also a statement along with the board resolution on social media as well. That came later.
We did get some as some angst about how “silence is violence” on social media. My silence was not intended to harm or hurt anybody. My silence was me in the background, trying to better understand where our community was, and I learned a lot in those two weeks before the board meeting. I’m still continuing to learn a great deal from our minority students and staff.
Q: What would you say to parents who are freaked out about sending their kids to school in a couple of months because of COVID-19?
A: We’ve done a really good job in regards to offering several different options for our community. We got three different options.
Option 1 is very similar to the beginning of school like we have all known from past experience.. Option 2 is “intermittent.” If individual students are faced with a case of COVID-19, or the flu, or mono, or surgical procedure, students that were on Option 1 can transfer to Option 2 so they can continue their studies and not miss a beat. When they’re well and healthy, they’ll be back in school. Option 2 will never go away even if COVID-19 is eradicated or gone, we still have people with surgery, flu, or mono— life happens so that Option 2 will forever be within our guidelines as we move forward. Option by 3 is a virtual piece. We have medically fragile kids on every campus and there’s going to be parents who do not want to send their kids to school with the COVID-19 lingering so option three might be something for them. It’s 100% online learning and it’s done through Odysseyware. We’ve been doing that for many years. We just haven’t really publicized it so we will continue with that model.
We are also looking at setting up protocols and doing what we need to create the safest environment we can. When making decisions, we are charged with several buckets to look at. Bucket #1 is protecting our students and staff against COVID-19 and the spread. Bucket #2 is the mental health component and bucket #3 is the District’s financial stability.
We’ve hired as an additional 30 LPN professionals (which are medical health providers). Every single school next year will have an LPN or registered nurse on-site. For example, Westmoore High School will have a nurse on your site all five days. We’ve developed plans and will be developing more plans on what the protocols look like in the buildings. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that our students are healthy and academically sound. The mental health component is going to be a very big part of all of this as we move forward.
Q: Graduation was epic. Was it the first time it was held outside? Tell me the details about 2020’s outdoor graduation?
Back in the day, 40 years ago, was when the last graduating class did their graduation outside at the Moore Stadium. I don’t know what the reason was to move to the Cox Convention— it was actually called Myriad at the time. I have a feeling it had to do weather-related issues and limited seating.
We started the conversation back in April with your senior class officers and sponsors about a virtual graduation. We were on Zoom, and I’ve got all these different faces looking at me from all three high schools. The overwhelming response from our seniors was “just let us come together one last time before we leave.” We’ve been through a lot. Over the last seven years since I’ve been superintendent, one of my very first decisions was to cancel school after the May 2013 tornado. Students left on that Monday and didn’t get any closure, we cancelled the last four days of the 2013 school year. Still to this day, I still hear from students in regards to their lost sixth grade recognition, their lost Super Kids’ Day, and the loss of all the scheduled junior high and high school activities. Our students felt shorted and had no closure at the end of our 2013 school year. Of course, they understood why we did what we had to do.
At this point, when the seniors started asking for a graduation, there was no doubt in my mind that we would move mountains to make it happen if the state and CDC guidelines would allow us to do so. We made the decision to move from the Cox Convention Center because we were going to be able to do more in terms of the amount of visitors that could attend and social distancing. From my perspective, the students, parents, and community that were in attendance absolutely appreciated the commencement ceremonies – with little to no complaints out of almost 1,600 graduates and their parents, grandparents, and friends. It was very important to finish the year strong for our 2020 graduates, and I felt like that was accomplished.
Q: What efforts have MPS taken in the past, before this movement, to include people of color?
A: There’s been a lot of things. There’s been a group created by our minority groups through our teacher association,which is also known as TEAM. That movement has been beneficial and there’s been a lot of conversation in regards to what we need to work on— something as simple as our publications at teacher job fairs. One of the things that we developed, last year, was a brochure that showed students of all races because we serve many different minority groups at Moore Public Schools. It’s not just the white community. It’s not just the black community. It’s not just the Asian community. It’s something as simple as highlighting multiple minority groups to show teachers we have a diverse group of students and staff on every campus. It started with things like that at job fairs and sending different minorities to the teacher job fairs because we’re about creating a culture of inviting everybody in to work in Moore Public Schools. We’re going to continue to develop plans to represent the different and diverse groups we serve.
Again, conversations have been very, very vital and important because we are learning and that’s what we should be about.
Q: What do you have to say students (and their parents) who had to face racial discrimination and hate at school?
A: Coming from a standpoint from a dad and a superintendent, when I talk about the fact that I am responsible for 24,769 students, I mean that literally, and my goal is to graduate and have all students walk across the stage with a healthy mind and a healthy heart. That’s a large goal and big task. That’s one of my primary goals. I have two daughters. One graduated from Westmoore in 2017 and one will be at Westmoore for another three years. When I look at my girls, I would not want them to be faced with any of the challenges that some of our minority students are faced with. Therefore the goal is to change that culture. If I sit back and think about it too long, it becomes overwhelming because I want to change the culture everywhere. People continue to pull me back and share the culture here in Moore Public Schools, and eventually that will spread.
Q: What changes is the district taking now or plan on for change?
A: I believe the change that students and staff will see is, again, communication and understanding the micro and macro aggression. Those are two terms that I just recently learned. I didn’t understand what they were until someone explained both to me and, again, I have a better understanding now. I believe there needs to be dialogue between all the different groups of people. I believe there needs to be sensitivity training for all groups. I do believe that there needs to be more of an open door policy with our mental health facilitators and our counselors that are in the buildings.
I’m going to be honest with you; there was, what I consider a great opportunity for our counseling staff at Westmoore, who were there to listen and understand. They heard the stories of our students and things they were dealing with. It was eye-opening. The counselors that were able to attend the meeting are committed to continued work with all students. There is no doubt that they will continue to be advocates for all students in an appropriate way. That meeting was really beneficial to hear the conversations but it was also beneficial for me to see that staff members that have been with MPS for a long time and have a way of building relationships with students. In my opinion, this is the first step of creating a positive culture and creating change.
I was very impressed with the staff at Westmoore that morning. The meeting went longer than scheduled and that was okay – there were great conversations and much was learned as a result of the meeting. After the students left, we were able to stay behind and have a more in-depth, deeper conversation in regards to what we need to do in moving forward. I’m going to be honest; I had a lot of questions in regards to some clarification— seeking to understand is a great thing.
Your new principal Mr. Ross was present. He is a passionate person and he is all about making sure that students are taken care of and handled and will always be willing to listen. Walking into the halls of Westmoore for the very first time as the administrator, he is responsible for leading one of the largest high schools in the state. We are going to support him— like we do with all of our administrators in MPS.
Q: What reassuring thing would you say to those who doubt change will take place?
A: We got a pretty good track record here in Moore, Oklahoma. We have been faced with many difficult situations. When faced with difficult situations, we dig our heels in and do what is best for our staff and students.
My ask is for the community of all backgrounds to be patient and let us make decisions on what’s in the best interest of our students and staff. We will continue to navigate through all concerns very carefully. Decisions will be made with a lot of thought and multiple conversations with all groups, moving forward.
Decisions made will be in the best interest of students and staff. Mistakes will be made and we will adjust to make things right.
Q: After hearing some stories about the struggles and lives of black students and teachers, what have you reflected on personally?
A: Looking back and listening, I’ve learned a great deal. I have struggled with the fact that students and staff members, that come from a different background, have faced struggles during their time at MPS. We are/should be about the hearts and minds of all students and staff. We are responsible for more than 24,700 students and 2500 staff members and we take that very seriously. We are family and each should and will be treated that way.
Joining Publications in his freshman year, Kim has won awards for his photography and stories in the Westmoore yearbook. Now as a junior, while helping...