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By Ray Dyer
The evening of May 31, 2013 was a long one. A few days after a tornado ripped through Moore, another swept through portions of Canadian County and yet another seemed headed straight for Mustang.
While the city was spared a direct hit, scores of Mustang residents took to their cars in an effort to outrun the storm, something officials said is the worst move anyone could make. In western Canadian County, that lesson hit home in the worst of ways, with nine people losing their lives. All of them were killed in vehicles.
Like most, those nine probably woke up that morning not expecting it to be the day they would draw their last breath on this earth.
“We got to go home that night,” said Bill Barnhart of OKC West. The livestock sale business that has been a fixture on state Highway 66 for more than two decades was wiped out by the tornado. It has since rebuilt. Across the road, the same thing happened to the Canadian Valley Technology Center. Construction on a new school on the same site is beginning.
Miraculously, no was killed at those sites, or at any of the dozens of homes that were destroyed by what would later be classified as the world’s widest recorded tornado.
The tornado first touched down at 6:03 p.m. southwest of El Reno, demolishing houses south of El Reno Municipal Airpark as it traveled what would eventually be 16.2 miles., ending at 6:43 p.m.
As the storm developed to the west, Oklahoma City television meteorologists warned “those living in El Reno to get below-ground.”
National Geographic would feature the “El Reno Tornado” in its November issue. The monster twister was recorded as being 2.6 miles wide.
All nine victims of the tornado died in vehicles – some purposely chasing the twister, caught by surprise as it suddenly turned, making the chasers the chased. Others were simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The wrong place in Canadian County was either on Interstate 40 or on or near U.S. Highway 81. Those killed were 67-year-old William Rose O’Neal, a retired federal prison counselor from El Reno; Hinton rancher and truck driver Richard Charles Henderson, 35; Maria Pol Martin, 26, and her 1-year-old son, Rey Chicoj Pol, also of Hinton; Wilburton oil field equipment manager Dustin Heath Bridges, 32; and three professional storm chasers – 55-year-old Timothy Samaras and his son, Paul Samaras, 24, both of Bennett, Colo., and their partner, Carl Richard Young, 45, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
The storm caused extensive damage to roofs, windows and vehicles in the core of El Reno, but because the path moved south of the more populated area, lives were undoubtedly spared.
“It makes me get cold chills thinking about what would have happened if it had moved through town on the path it first started,” said City Manager Tony Rivera. “We were certainly blessed.”
By Traci Chapman
They were two very different men who traveled a long way and found a resting place thousands of miles away. Now home, they are just two of the stories that make each Memorial Day more than a day for barbecues or a Monday off from work.
On Monday, Mustang American Legion Post 353 members and a small crowd of residents gathered to honor more than 400 people who have given their lives in service of their country buried in Mustang Cemetery. Their stories are worth telling and remembering, CCMS (USAF Retired) Lloyd Smithson said.
“It is important, what they did and what they sacrificed – their stories are important,” Smithson said.
Those who lived and died in service of their country each have a story – not just of their service, but of their lives and the people who loved them. They are the journeys of men like Finley Blanton and Donald Wann. And while those two soldiers didn’t hail from inside Mustang’s 12 square miles, the gift they gave their country was the ultimate sacrifice given by their peers laid to rest in Mustang Cemetery.
Clarence Finley Blanton finally made it home last year. It had been more than 44 years since the El Reno native was last seen, thousands of miles away, on a rocky cliff in Laos. Known to his fellow soldiers as Bill, none of them were supposed to be where they last lived and died – and that was one reason it took so long to get him home.
Long before that day, Blanton was loved and missed by the women in his life – his widow, Norma, who would never remarry, and his daughter, Karen Daughety. To them he was a warm and funny man with a huge heart who loved the country he served, knowing that dedication could ultimately cost him his life.
“He was something special all right,” Norma said. “Even that last assignment was something different, something people wanted to find out about.”
Blanton became a part of the story of the Vietnam War. While many people later wanted to forget that war ever happened, for families like his, it was something they never forgot – not just because their husband and father was lost but also because he never made it home at all.
“There was never that chance to say goodbye, to have somewhere to visit him, to know he was home,” Norma said.
An Air Force man, the story of Blanton and the men who served with him on that final assignment would remain as misty as the fog that would blanket the place where they died.
That secrecy involved a radar installation located on Phou Pha Thi mountain, rising about 5,600 feet with a near-vertical face on one side. Called Lima Site 85, it wasn’t its function that made Blanton’s outfit secret. It was where that mountain, and Lima 85, was located – in Laos, a self-proclaimed neutral country where Americans were not supposed to be conducting any kind of military operation.
The operation was so secret, the 19 men assigned to it were “sheep-dipped” – separated from the Air Force and proclaimed civilians. However, the men were still considered Air Force personnel by military officials. Many years later, documents revealed that Lima 85’s radar was used to help guide bombing strikes into North Vietnam and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. With the enemy’s capital – Hanoi – just 160 miles away from Lima 85, it provided a perfect location for a radar installation. Its height and sheer face gave military leaders confidence the small outpost would be protected from the enemy.
Those leaders were wrong. On March 11, 1968, North Vietnamese forces were able to scale the cliff. While bombardment rained down, Blanton and 10 other men died on the mountain, while eight men were airlifted to safety. Of those who escaped by helicopter, one – Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger – was killed by gunfire shortly after being lifted onto the helicopter. Etchberger was awarded the Medal of Honor in September 2010 for helping four injured airmen board the helicopter, saving their lives.
After American forces determined no one was left alive at Lima 85, the radar unit was bombed to keep it from falling into the enemy’s hands.
All of those facts were kept from the families of Lima 85’s casualties. While the men were first listed as Missing in Action, a change in their status to “killed in action” did not bring closure.
“We really didn’t know what happened to them, and it was a terrible thing,” Norma Blanton said. “It’s like what people say – the not knowing is the worst.”
Back home, Blanton’s family had to cope with the news he was missing. A month later, his mother, Mabel Blanton, died.
“It was a horrible time, and she never had an answer, his father never had an answer about what had really happened to him,” Norma said.
But Blanton himself might have had a foreshadowing about what was to come, Norma said. In his last letter, written just three days before he was killed, Blanton’s tone changed from his usual correspondence.
“He said, ‘It’s very spooky up here tonight,’ and that was uncharacteristic for him,” she said.
As the years went on and files were opened, Norma and the families of the 11 other men lost that day learned information, bit by bit. Finally came the news that Vietnamese troops said they had thrown the American casualties over the side of the mountain because they could not be buried on the rocky surface.
“And that’s where they found him,” Norma said. “They had dummies they threw over the side of the cliff to see where they’d land, and that’s where they were.”
Searchers found five vests and four different sizes of boots at the mountain’s base. They also found bone fragments and – a “miracle,” Norma said – Blanton’s identification card.
“It was in pretty good shape so they didn’t know if it had been there that whole time or if someone had it and then knew about the search effort and returned it to the spot,” she said.
“After 44 years to be even getting him back, I can’t even describe it,” Norma said.
And as for that spot so far away where Finley spent his last moments?
“Bill – Finley – would always say in his letters how beautiful it was,” Norma said. “That’s what I hold onto.”
Shannon Wann Plaster knows all about the search for a missing loved one.
She, like Norma and Karen, experienced a loss during the Vietnam War – when she was 9 years old, her father left to serve and he never returned. Like the Blanton family, it wasn’t just that her father was killed in action, she said.
“It’s the not knowing, the fact that we didn’t know where he was – that was the most difficult part of it,” Shannon said.
The search for her father, Chief Warrant Officer Donald Wann, would become a defining part of Shannon’s life. Convinced he could be found, Shannon never gave up until he actually was –39 years after he was last seen.
Donald Wann volunteered to serve long before war came to a far-away place called Vietnam and a soldier who signed up for two tours of duty once war broke out. He was awarded 152 air medals, two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, a Good Conduct Award and the Vietnam Medal.
Wann was nearing the end of his second tour when on June 1, 1971, he and 1st Lt. Paul Magers were flying an AH1G Cobra gunship helicopter on a two-copter mission to pick up a ranger team stranded near Dong Tri, South Vietnam. After the first team picked up the rangers, Wann and Magers flew closer to destroy some ammunition and mines left on the site. As the helicopter neared the site, it was hit by rounds from anti-aircraft artillery, spun out and crashed on a steep hill, before exploding. Because the area was under heavy fire, rescue or recovery attempts were impossible.
Wann’s final flight was the day after his 34th birthday and five days before he was set to come home on leave.
That was the official story of her father’s disappearance and it was all Shannon, her mother, Ruth, and her sister, Michelle, had as they struggled to understand how their lives had changed so radically.
“It was strange for a kid to have your dad go away and never go back, and then there was the aftermath,” Shannon said. “We lost our house and in a way, we lost our way. It took a long time to try to accept how our lives changed.”
Wann was declared dead in 1973, but that didn’t clear up the “lingering doubts” in his daughter’s mind. With the documents concerning her father’s activities in Vietnam still classified, answers were hard to come by.
“We didn’t know where he was, we didn’t know a lot of things about him,” she said. “As a teenager, of course, I had a lot of anger and confusion. I always had these dreams that my dad would come back, and I wouldn’t believe people who said that he was dead. I had no closure.”
During those years, Wann said she had no idea that a single decision would change not only the course of her own life, but also set the stage for her father’s final journey.
“I was searching and I finally decided I was going to do something to try to get some answers,” she said.
That something was to write a letter to the Pentagon. In 1990, after reading about other Oklahoma soldiers missing in action, she sent an appeal for information. Twenty years after writing that letter, she finally got the news she had dreamed of for so long – her father had been found.
Oddly, the trail leading to Donald Wann’s helicopter wreckage veered into the past, Wann said. Investigators first believed they had found the crash site in 1993. Located on a steep mountain in dense jungle terrain, crews began what would be the first of several excavations. Initial finds – an empty wallet, helicopter parts, a seat belt and boot parts – were encouraging, but the items could not be positively linked to Wann or Magers.
Throughout the excavations, the interviews and the endless paperwork, Wann – now living in Yukon – said she never lost faith her father would be found, although frustration was a constant part of the process. That’s when fate stepped in, Wann said. Two witnesses came forward with information, men who said they had seen the downed helicopter and the two victims after the crash. One of those men claimed to have buried one of the Americans.
“He gave them information, as did the other man, and it started to become clear this man believed he buried my dad,” Wann said. “In the end, he was right about that.”
Eventually, the most important clues were found – teeth and a bone fragment. Although it didn’t seem like much, it was enough to finally determine it was the Wann/Magers crash site. DNA and dental records determined the teeth belonged to Wann, while Magers’ family also finally learned, for certain, his fate.
In 2010, Donald Wann finally came home. Buried in a military funeral attended by hundreds of people, it didn’t erase the pain of all those years of loss, but it gave Shannon a chance to say goodbye and to reflect on the journey that led both of them to that place.
“Throughout this process, I have learned so much about my father and the man he was – even just recently, I’ve learned so much,” she said. “I want to make sure people know who he was and what a great person he was, and I want other families to never go through this alone.
“I will never stop missing my dad and grieving for what we missed, but I know one thing – he was doing what he believed in and what he loved, and that makes me very proud,” Wann said.
By Traci Chapman
Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is kicking off its Save for College Sweepstakes with a plan designed to keep students reading throughout the summer.
Fizz Boom Save for College will award $2,529 each to two students through a partnership between the savings plan and Oklahoma Department of Libraries. The sweepstakes runs through Aug. 31 and is open to all Oklahoma parents, guardians and grandparents whose child is participating in a summer reading program.
“The goal of the sweepstakes is to keep kids from preschool to high school reading throughout the summer, expanding their knowledge on subjects that interest them,” Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller said.
Miller is board chairman for Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan. He said this marks the sixth year for the sweepstakes, running in conjunction with the Department of Libraries’ summer reading programs.
The sweepstakes program is heating up as Mustang Public Library gets ready Thursday to kick off its summer reading program. Registration for the program begins that day and from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m., a free concert will be held at Wild Horse Park Gazebo. Musician Monty Harper and Sugar Free Allstars will be featured during the concert, and children and youth will receive a book bag, reading log and bookmark.
“Everyone is invited to bring their blankets, chairs and picnic dinner or snacks,” Mustang children’s librarian Lizzie Brown said.
Monty Harper will perform at 7 p.m., and Sugar Free Allstars will take the stage at 8 p.m., Brown said. Anyone attending is asked to bring new or “gently used” books for donation to Smart Start Canadian County.
Mustang’s summer reading concert is by Friends of the Mustang Library Endowment Fund and Oklahoma Arts Council.
Sweepstakes entry forms are available at Mustang Public Library. Forms may be completed and returned to the library or sent in by mail or online at www.ok4saving.org. Forms must be submitted or postmarked by Aug. 31.
For more information about Mustang’s summer reading program and other events for children and youth scheduled throughout the summer, contact Brown at (405) 376-2226 or email@example.com.
Canadian County’s anti-smoking coalition has gone international in its efforts to help residents become tobacco-free.
Canadian County Against Tobacco partnered with Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline to support World No Tobacco Day, set for May 31.
“World No Tobacco Day is an annual day of awareness sponsored by the World Health Organization that highlights the health risks associated with tobacco use in order to end the tobacco epidemic for good,” said Jenny Kellbach, Canadian County Health Department tobacco prevention coordinator.
According to Centers for Disease Control and state health department figures, smoking directly or indirectly is part of diseases suffered by 16 million people across the country. In Oklahoma, more than 6,200 adults die each year as a result of smoking – their own or someone close to them.
“Tobacco kills more people than drugs, alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, homicides and suicides combined,” coalition member Karen McKeever said. “But it isn’t just about the numbers of loved ones we’ve lost – it is also about illnesses, disability and reduced quality of life due to smoking.
“It is about missing a daughter’s wedding, a grandchild’s first steps or even your own wedding anniversary,” she said. “World No Tobacco Day provides an opportunity to take back those special moments by setting a quit date on May 31 and quitting for life.”
CDC official said reducing smoking worldwide by 20 to 25 percent could translate to 100 million premature deaths by 2020.
“If the current trends of smoking continue, approximately 8 million people worldwide will die each year from tobacco use by 2030,” Kellbach said.
Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline offers free quit coaching for all Oklahomans throughout the year, Kellbach said. Since 2003, the helpline has helped more than 250,000 Oklahomans stop smoking, she said.
“The Helpline offers free services, including ‘quit coaching,’ a customized plan to help quit, online support and a free starter kit of patches, gum or lozenges,” she said.
To contact Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit www.OKhelpline.com. For more information about Canadian County Against Tobacco, contact Kellbach at (405) 422-6447.
A Sunday check at a Canadian County truck stop ended with the discovery of about $650,000 in marijuana, officials said.
Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West said deputies contacted a truck driver at TA Truck Stop, Morgan Road and Interstate 40, early Sunday. After “smelling the strong odor of marijuana coming from one of the vehicles on his car hauler,” deputies obtained the truck driver’s consent to search a 2013 Chevrolet Impala the man was hauling from Los Angeles to Memphis, West said.
“Once inside the vehicle, deputies quickly found several bundles of high grade marijuana that was concealed behind the car’s dashboard,” West said. He said they found about 120 pounds.
“It was everywhere – behind the dash, in the bumper, in the doors,” he said.
West estimated the marijuana’s street value at about $650,000.
After investigating the truck driver and the car itself, deputies determined the car was a rental and the truck driver – who was not identified – was not arrested or detained, West said.
Investigators have uncovered information concerning the individual who rented the vehicle and they expect to present a complaint to the Canadian County district attorney’s office “shortly,” West said.
“Until we have an arrest or charges, we won’t release any more information about what we’ve discovered, but we expect this to move pretty quickly,” he said.
By Traci Chapman
City Council on Tuesday accepted a $1.057 million multi-hazard mitigation grant that will provide individual safe room rebates to about 525 Mustang property owners.
The grant, administered by Federal Emergency Management Agency, will assist property owners who applied for the program between September and December 2013, said Robert Coleman, Mustang community development director.
City staff will attempt to notify all applicants of their program status via mail and telephone before Saturday, May 24, Coleman said.
“This presents a unique opportunity to help alleviate some of the potentially disastrous situations we’ve witnessed in the past,” Mayor Jay Adams said. “The city wants to do everything it can to enable its citizens to shelter in place, and this a major step never seen before in Mustang.”
In 2013, Mayor Adams proposed a much smaller city-funded grant program; it failed to receive council endorsement.
The Mustang Individual Safe Room Grant Program is patterned after similar efforts in other communities and the statewide SoonerSafe ISR Program administered by Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Those who are selected and deemed eligible must fulfill certain requirements. If they do so, they could be reimbursed up to 75 percent of their safe room costs, up to a maximum of $2,000, Coleman said.
Anyone who applied for the program should be careful to follow all guidelines so they do not inadvertently do something that invalidates their application, Coleman said.
“Federal grants come with many stipulations and requirements,” he said. “It will be very important for the awardees to make sure they follow all requirements from the city, ODEM and FEMA during this process; those that don’t risk losing the possibility for any potential reimbursement.”
Among those requirements would be informational meetings where applicants’ attendance is required, Coleman said.
Mustang officials received 829 applications by the sign-up deadline; 39 of those properties were determined to be ineligible because of flood hazard area guidelines, Coleman said.
“Approximately 40 citizens chose to forego their eligibility and purchase an ISR prior to the award announcement,” Coleman said.
City officials then used a “web-based number generator” to randomly select 525 property owners for the award from those eligible properties remaining on the list, he said.
Anyone who applied for the grant before the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline should receive some kind of status update in the mail by this weekend, officials said. Anyone who applied and has not received a postcard or letter from the city by then should call 376-9873, Coleman said.
Anyone not initially selected would remain on an alternate list. Should anyone from the original list be deemed ineligible or decline to participate in the program, city officials would make random selections for replacements from the alternate list. Anyone participating in the program must file their participation agreement by the end of June, Coleman said. Participants must then obtain a building permit for the shelter by August and documentation the shelter has been installed must be turned into the city by the end of January 2015, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with a small staff in a very short time,” Coleman said.
Mustang officials were also approved of the city’s eligibility to recoup up to $30,000 in administration costs associated with the program, the community development director said. A part-time temporary employee, hired for the duration of the grant program, was expected to be hired soon, he said.
“Interested applicants should contact the city of Mustang human resources department during normal business hours,” Coleman said.
By Traci Chapman
Mustang Fire Department will hit the streets this weekend to raise funds for muscular dystrophy.
Firefighters will take part in the annual “Fill the Boot” campaign May 24-26 at the corner of state Highway 152 and Mustang Road. About 20 to 25 firefighters will be on hand all three days drumming up donations for the fight against the muscular disease, Deputy Chief Roy Widmann said.
The cause became personal to Mustang firefighters a long time ago, Widmann said. It was about 25 years ago when one of the department’s volunteers, volunteer assistant chief Curtis Kuhlman, contracted the disease when he was about 60 years old.
“It became personal for us then, as Curtis was a well-liked, well-respected volunteer,” Widmann said.
The group raised about $6,367 last year and hopes to surpass that this year, they said.
Fill the Boot began more than 50 years ago. Firefighters across the department take part in the event, raising thousands of dollars annually to help fight muscular dystrophy, find treatments and a cure for a wide range of neuromuscular diseases.
Mustang had 43 athletes participate in this year’s summer Special Olympics, held in Stillwater last week
Athletes train for months and work hard to be part of the games. Although they are all very different, they share one very important trait, their teachers and parents say – they are dedicated and hard-working.
As part of an ongoing series, here are some of them:
Jon is 13 years old and is in seventh grade at Mustang North Middle School.
Jon was born with arthrogryposis and has had many surgeries. He lost his mom when he was 20 months old. He has been a member of the Miracle League and during the summer he swims with his favorite coach, Renee Boatman. He loves going to museums, taking summer classes at OCCC and loves to paint, write poems and write songs. He is very creative and enjoys playing Xbox with his friends, as well as Transformer and Avenger movies. Pizza is his favorite food.
Jon wanted to join Special Olympics since he was very young. He participates in track and field, shot put and softball throw, but bocce and bowling are his favorites. Over the past five years, Jon has accumulated 20 gold, 10 silver and five bronze medals he keeps on his “Wall of Fame.”
Jon lives with his grandparents, Donald and Shirley Renchen. His dad is Wesley Renchen. His brother, Zane, attends Canyon Ridge Intermediate School.
Kaci Marie Richardson
Kaci is 16 years old and is in 10th grade.
She loves pizza and tacos and began participating in Special Olympics when she was 8. She competes in bowling, basketball, softball throw and 50-meter run. She has received lots of ribbons and medals but her biggest joy is just participating, her mom, Margaret said.
Kaci’s siblings are Tara, Amiee, Angiee, Brian and Suzie. She has 12 nieces and nephews who are also a big part of her life.
More athletes will be profiled in the May 29 issue of the Mustang News. Check our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram often for on-the-scene updates of Thursday’s Special Olympics action.
By Traci Chapman
Mustang school administrators last week praised students who helped avoid what they said could have become a serious situation.
Events began Monday, May 12, when students approached administrators at Mustang High School, reporting threats allegedly made by a 15-year-old male student. The youth told others he was “planning to harm other students and himself on the last day of school,” Superintendent Sean McDaniel said. A school resource officer – also a Mustang police officer – was advised of the threats and Mustang Police Department investigators joined the query into the matter.
After the student’s parents were contacted, the youth was kept at home pending an investigation. Police arrested the 15-year-old on a complaint of planning or endeavoring to commit a violent act, a felony. The student’s name was not released because he was a juvenile.
“Our investigation led us to believe this was a credible threat, which resulted in the arrest,” Detective Camie McNeil said. “At this time, we have no evidence that this juvenile ever brought a weapon onto school property.”
School officials said students’ action in telling administrators about the threat was exactly the right way to handle the situation.
“I am so grateful to the Mustang PD for their response and thankful for our students who reported what they heard to administrators,” McDaniel said.
By Traci Chapman
State assessments do not give a clear picture of Mustang third-graders’ reading abilities, Mustang school district officials say.
“This is the first year that the modified test was not allowed for special needs students who are on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP),” Superintendent Sean McDaniel said Tuesday. “The scores of students on IEP’s were included with all other scores.
“Additionally, the state department included in its reporting that was released on Friday all of the students who meet one of the good cause exemptions that they have allowed,” he said. “The reporting is inaccurate.”
According to state test results, 67.5 percent of Mustang third-graders taking the test – 516 of 765 students – showed proficiency. One hundred students in Mustang were assessed as unsatisfactory on their test results. State data indicated another 116 Mustang third-graders demonstrated limited knowledge on the reading assessment. McDaniel said results were preliminary, a fact not emphasized by state officials.
For the first time, third-graders with an unsatisfactory reading score on the state test will not be allowed to move forward to fourth grade unless they meet what state officials deemed “good cause” exemptions.
“They must demonstrate the ability to read at a second-grade level or higher or they must have another significant reason for the unsatisfactory test result,” Oklahoma Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said.
Exemptions include students with disabilities assessed under different guidelines, those who demonstrate “an acceptable level of performance” on a different standardized reading test and students who have had less than two years of English and are not yet proficient, state officials said. Teachers can also provide a portfolio of a child’s work to prove that individual can read at the necessary reading level.
“Mustang has already identified more than a dozen students who meet one of the good cause exemptions and we anticipate we will have several more,” McDaniel said. “It will take us a few days to review the data provided by the state department and remove the students from the list who meet one of the exemptions.
“Once an evaluation of the preliminary results is completed, Mustang will have a much lower number of students who may be retained,” the superintendent said. “Even that list will be preliminary as students will still have opportunities to meet exemptions and promote to the fourth grade.“
Mustang’s teachers have been working with struggling students for months, and sometimes over a period of years, McDaniel said.
“Mustang teachers and principals identified third-graders who were at risk of being retained when they entered the third grade and in some cases as far back as kindergarten and have been working with them intensively,” he said. “Each student has a detailed instructional plan in place that we believe will lead to reading and academic proficiency.”
Only two of Canadian County’s six independent school districts could post 80 percent or more of its third-grade students were considered proficient in reading.
Results of the tests were released Friday. In Canadian County, the area’s two smallest independent school districts posted the best results. Calumet had 17 of 20 students test as proficient on the reading exam, while 16 of Union City’s 19 test-takers achieved the same result.
Other county schools tested as follows:
uEl Reno- 56.4 percent proficient, 21.2 percent unsatisfactory;
uPiedmont – 75.9 percent proficient, 9.8 percent unsatisfactory;
uYukon – 75.1 percent proficient, 9.1 percent unsatisfactory;
uBanner – 65.2 percent proficient;
uDarlington – 83.3 percent proficient; and
uMaple – 76.5 percent proficient.
Students testing in the unsatisfactory range for Darlington and Maple were not provided, and no data at all was released for Riverside School, except the fact 18 third-graders took the test there.
Of the 532 school districts across Oklahoma, only 62 of them scored 80 percent proficient or higher and students in only one district – Coleman Public Schools, located in the southern part of the state – received 100 percent proficiency. The district had 10 third-graders take the exam, according to Department of Education records. Oklahoma City Public Schools posted a 44.8 percent proficiency. More than 1,000 of the 3,608 third-graders who took the test there scored in the unsatisfactory range, state officials said.
Several administrators, including McDaniel, were critical of the way the results were released. Both state and district officials said results were given to the media about 60 minutes after districts themselves received them.
“As stressful as the actual testing may have been for our third-graders, their teachers and parents, the idea that this information has been released to parents prior to our district having had the opportunity to evaluate the data and knowing that this data is only preliminary and not an accurate account of our third-grade scores is sickening,” McDaniel said. “The state department has routinely released scores to districts prior to a public release for the purpose of review and accuracy checking.”
McDaniel said the early release was poorly handled not just for the district and its teachers, but also for some parents, who were startled to learn their child would automatically be kept back – which was not the case with many of Mustang’s students, he said.
“It has caused undue and additional stress on children, parents and teachers,” the superintendent said. “Parents received phone calls Friday informing them that their third-graders scored unsatisfactory on the reading test.
“This message was received by many to mean that their child would have to repeat the third grade,” McDaniel said. “What we are finding today is that many of the students meet one or more of the good cause exemptions and will not be retained.”
While some students were already known to have met the threshold to pass through to fourth grade it would take some time to identify others, something the superintendent said he was sure would be the case – and something that would have been made clear before test results were released, had the state department given districts more time to evaluate the scores. Several administrators from districts around the state, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa and others, agreed.
“Additional students will have acceptable portfolios and they will not be retained,” McDaniel said. “Had the state department provided even 24 hours of notice to districts, we could have kept many families and teachers from having to endure the traumatic weekend that they just went through.”
Parents have a state resource to go to with questions. State Department of Education has set up hotlines, manned by OSDE literacy staff and REAC3H coaches. Lines will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, through May 23. The number to call is 521-3774.