OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Ahead of the 36th induction for the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame, State Superintendent Ryan Walters continued to clash with educators after fresh comments targeting the group were heard at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Stillwater.
The Hall of Fame’s portrait gallery was removed from public display at Oklahoma’s State Department of Education earlier this year, shocking many around the state.
“Why am I walking my employees down a hallway with all their pictures…[they said] ‘well, that’s an education hall of fame ,they keep it up here’, [and] I said ‘well, take it down,'” Walters said at the meeting Tuesday hosted for him by the Payne County Republican Party at World Harvest Church.
A cached version of the page honoring past winners on the State Department of Education was still present as of Wednesday evening.
In a prior statement to the station, Superintendent Walters said the Hall of Fame was a nod to “bureaucrats and union leaders”, while parents and children are the ones who should be featured.
During the town hall meeting, he echoed those same sentiments.
“We work for taxpayers, we work for parents, we work for kids … [start] with all the kids artwork up on this wall, let’s start with pictures up with parents,” he said.
However, the portrait gallery honoring the state’s educators is not new.
“Their portraits and plaques listing their qualifications and their achievements over the years have been there through three or four different superintendents,” said R. Eugene Earsom, President of the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame.”
“It’s hurtful and painful,” said former educator Drew Cole in an interview Wednesday with the station.
Cole’s father, Dr. Bill S. Cole, was inducted after decades of service in education, including: as a Biology and Science Teacher and Department Chair, Putnam City and Purcell Public Schools and Redlands Community College; Assistant Dean of Instruction and President, Redlands Community College; President, East Central University; and President, Presidents’ Council, Board of Regents of Oklahoma Colleges.
“It goes as a testament of a life lived in pursuit of education and making that available for everyone,” said Drew.
“I don’t think we would be able to survive at the highest level of education that we are for so long if we hadn’t had those giant to get us to that point,” he added.
“Those giants were lining that hallway and they were so callously ripped down and shoved into a closet,” added his wife Jami, also an educator as well as administrator for Oklahoma Edvocates.
The Educators Hall of Fame said they’ve attempted to speak with Walters about their opposing philosophies.
“He assured us that he would talk with us, meet with us. And unfortunately, to this day, we’ve not heard anything back from him,” said Earsom, adding that the organization asked him to attend this Friday’s induction ceremony.
“We want him to see that that we’re an organization that believes strongly in quality public education from pre-K [and] beyond,” Earsom said.
KFOR contacted the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Dan Isett, to confirm the attendance – but did not hear back.
“[Dr. Cole’s] legacy will live on no matter what Ryan tries to do to destroy those legacies,” said Jami.
“If you don’t want those in your building … great. I’m sure there are colleges and schools of education all over the state. that would love to have those pictures,” added Drew.
This year’s honorees will be inducted at the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club on November 10.