As I write these account of my travels I am reminded of a couple of things. Foremost in my mind is just how very blessed I am to live in a country where I can actually talk to the persons in my government that make law. Once again, my journey led me to the State Capitol of Oklahoma and to the office of Rep. Scott Martin. Martin is Chair of the Appropriation and Budget Education committee. He also sits on the Higher Education and CareerTech committee.
His office was humble, inviting and had a great view of the renovations to our near century old capitol. I was taken in at the genuine smile he presented when we met. Reading people one can tell if it is a smile or simply bearing the teeth as a courtesy. The representative of my district, was smiling, with his eyes. The key is looking at the eyes. His eyes were smiling along with the rest of his face.
Where to start. Well the obvious, CTE. He shared a couple of stories and remarked as a young student CTE was not even on his radar. As time passed and an education transformed to a career in banking then to public office, he became acutely aware of the existence of CTE. Seeing the profound impact it has on our workforce, economy, educational framework, and of course the options it provides. I have stated before, we in Oklahoma have a CTE funding model that insulates us from the state budget in that we derive the vast majority of our revenue from ad valorem taxes on real property within the county where the technology center resides. Of the three education agencies in Oklahoma (higher ed, common ed, and Careertech) Martin asserts he only hears from two of them about budget issues and funding problems. This is not to say we are not impacted by budget problems at the state level, we are, but our “insulation” from those budgets means much lower impact for us locally. For the second time in two days, I heard accolades at how awesome we are at what we do.
Martin was particularly vocal about learning at the technical level of our programs. He talked quite candidly about the high level of technical knowledge our student leave here with. And again, the smiling eyes smiling face thing, which of course caused me to smile. He was surprised at the advanced level in which we operate. It was quite nice to hear. The thing was with Martin, he was talking about CTE in Oklahoma and of course Moore Norman Technology Center. I am not usually a super humble person, usually, but here, yes.
Rep. Martin also offered the other pieces of how he sees CTE in Oklahoma. And again for the second time that day, I heard the “best kept secret” idea. As with life, ALL good comes with the “not so good” or even just plain bad. Martin made sure to reiterate the tremendous level at which we operate. That being said, Martin offered the idea that we have a marketing problem. The problem as he stated was the idea that we do a great job at tooting our horn about what we offer, how many of this and that moving from to here to there and so on. The issue to him was not us talking about us. The issue was our community partners were not talking about us, or not talking about us loud enough to remove us from “best kept secret” to THE go to solution for highly skilled people ready for the workforce. My level of awareness was pegging the meter at this point.
We chatted about a couple of things related to the issue. So I asked him just what the solution was in his view. My question was met with a silence that at first seemed like a part of the active listening script we all employ when answering a question. Then the silence continued as he looked around in thought. For what thought was 20 seconds of rapidly and increasing discomfort on my part, I just broke the silence with the apology to the coming comment. I stated in a quite joking manner that I have never seen a politician so speechless after a question. Of course when his eyes locked on mine I was certain he had pushed the silent security button and some very unpleasant people were coming to drag me from the building. To my extreme relief, he simply smiled (eyes and mouth) laughed and said he was not sure. He said he was sure the solution would involve a very public collaboration with our respective industries. More collaboration between Common Education and CareerTech was proposed. He also talked about a better outreach to students and parents with respect to demonstrative examples of WHY we are so successful. He also feels very strongly about the stigma of “Vo-Tech” as being a significant hurdle we still need to overcome.
Martin said not everyone can or will go to college. I am in complete agreement with that statement. We demonstrate every year simply by our placement and entry level wage numbers why we are as good or even better solution to education. Yet the stigma persists. We can say CTE every day, but in the halls of our detractors the narrative is that we are still vo-tech.
At the end of this month Rep. Martin will step down to assume the lead of the Norman Chamber of Commerce. Considering the great work he accomplished in our State Legislature, I have zero doubt he will continue to be one of our greatest assets in the community.
Thank you Rep. Martin for taking time out of a very busy schedule to see me. And thank you for your kind and generous conversation.
2017 Business Education Fellow
Moore Norman Technology Center