Shawnee Forward hosted a State of the Schools luncheon where residents gathered to hear reports from the area's top entities in education.

Shawnee Forward hosted a State of the Schools luncheon where residents gathered to hear reports from the area's top entities in education.

Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. April Grace, Gordon Cooper Technology Center (GCTC) Superintendent Marty Lewis and Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) President Dr. David Whitlock offered insights into what's going on in their programs for a crowd of about 70 during the noon hour Tuesday.

Grace kicked off the presentation with updates on the districts current bond projects, as well as the many planned for the next year or two. The $32 million bond initiative passed in 2016 was primarily for safety and security projects like safe rooms, secured vestibules and parking lots, as well as the addition of a new elementary school, among others.

Not all progress was related to construction.

“We had 22 of our high school graduates that were Oklahoma Academic Scholars,” she said. “Our offensive player of the year for baseball was a national merit scholar.”

Girls and boys basketball, girls swim, softball — they all received state academic achievement awards, she said.

“I'm always concerned with how our athletes perform on the field, but I'm more importantly concerned with how they perform in the classroom,” she said. “I'm really proud of these academic achievement awards for our boys and girls.”

Grace also spoke briefly of the district's 5-year continuous strategic improvement plan that will be kicking off soon.

GCTC, a vocational institution serving multiple districts and counties, focused on the importance of working together.

“What we've got going on regionally and this community specifically is nothing short of amazing,” Lewis said.

Joking about being somewhat of a pessimist, he said, “I celebrate for about three seconds, and then I start thinking about all the challenges — or opportunities — that are ahead of us.”

He said one of the things he believes will be important moving forward is that the community truly embraces the notion that everybody contributes to success, and it takes everybody to be successful.

“If you ever think that you don't play a role, just think about the partners for the schools that was spearheaded,” he said. “We've got 100 different entities that have stepped up. That probably needs to be 10-fold. I know that's a heavy reach, but the needs are there; it will take everyone,” he said.

Lewis said society tends to think in terms of winner versus loser.

“Everybody seems to think it's a zero-sum game; you win, I lose or I win, you lose,” he said. “I don't believe that — never have, never will.”

Lewis said he believes that when there are successful entities in the community or region that's a good thing for everybody.

“Truly we have a time like no other now, in terms of the things we've got in place,” he said. “We need to remember that; this is really a special time.”

GCTC's three campuses serve a district that is 1,600 square miles, Lewis said.

“We have a lot of communities — 27 partner school districts, along with two private schools and a whole lot of homeschool kids,” he said.

Something most people don't know is that GCTC has a lot of business and career service training, he said.

“Last year that was 22,216 people that came through our place for various kinds of training,” he said.

Lewis also shared several target goals the institution deems important.

“It's important to us — we've got 22 now — high schools that we service across our 1,600 square miles,” he said. “We want to make sure that every one of those high schools have at least a minimum level of enrollment.”

He said he wants the smaller districts to know that GCTC contributes to their student success as much as Shawnee.

Some renovations and new programs also were talked about.

OBU, longtime higher education institution in Shawnee, continues to grow.

Whitlock said OBU's enrollment has steadily increased over the past decade.

“Since 2007, OBU's enrollment numbers have increased by 30 percent,” he said. “We went from 1,607 students in 2007; most recently we hit the 2,093 mark.”

Whitlock said there are 610 new Bison currently enrolled for the Fall semester.

“In 2017-2018, we received a full 10-year accreditation,” he said. “The next one will occur in 2027.”

Not only that, he said, but OBU achieved full membership in NCAA Division 2.

“Over the last year we have been recipients of several recognitions,” he said. “including being named in College of Distinction, Best in the West Universities, America's Top Colleges and Best Regional Colleges.”

Several new programs and facilities have been part of the campus focus.

The campus grounds also have gained some notoriety.

“OBU is the only nationally accredited arboretum in the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

A couple huge projects wrapping up this year, Whitlock said, were Ford Hall, formerly Ford Music Hall, as well as constructing sidewalk ramps around the oval to improve accessibility and renovating the lower level of the Geiger Center, the campus student union building, among other projects.