Joy Hofmeister, new Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, understands the meaning and value of space.
The afternoon after her inauguration she held her reception in the meeting room where the State Board of Education had met for years in the Oliver Hodge Education Building on the Capitol grounds. It was a close environment in which to visit with the new superintendent and staff. Hofmeister, the staff, and visitors seemed to enjoy it.
For board meetings, predecessor Janet Barresi had vacated that room in exchange for possibly the most ostentatious and officious of committee rooms in the Capitol Building.
That Hodge Building meeting room is now being used again by a new superintendent who clearly understands the value of close proximity.
Not only that, but the highly significant Education Hall of Fame had been restored to the hallway leading to that board meeting room. Those leaders from the past who had worked so hard to develop a strong public education system in Oklahoma were being honored once again in a space where the public would see.
Barresi had ordered the Hall of Fame taken down and put up in another obscure hallway that, according to one staffer, even many SDE employees had no access to, much less the public.
Those gestures on that day spoke loudly to people who were there and even for those who read my report and reports of others on the events of the day.
Close quarters for board members
Now, the board meetings have shifted back to its usual room in the Hodge Building for a host of reasons that have to do with legal notices about meetings and other functional reasons.
But, for those who have been present, and even for those just viewing video reports and photos, it’s clear that Hofmeister likes having board members, staff, and visitors all sitting in a smaller space where they can be easily seen and heard.
When asked if she wants to continue to meet there she said that she does.
It is especially important that an all-Gov-Fallin-appointed State board of Education is once again sitting in close proximity to those who visit these meetings. It’s a good reminder that they are there to get work done for all of us and not rule on education matters as a sort-of court. The huge committee room in the Capitol building made it far too easy to develop that kind of attitude.
Of and in the public
It wasn’t just a campaign gimmick that she traveled the state so widely. She makes it a point to meet a lot of people, even the ones who may not like her very well for an assortment of reasons.
Today we might see her attending an ed camp somewhere. Tomorrow it may be her visiting a school in a far-flung part of this expansive state. She obviously enjoys the contact and the interaction.
Perhaps it’s because she is astute and reads people so well that she perceives the pain of public educators over the last four years.
Perhaps it’s because she ran her own education organization for years and knows that to make things work the honcho has to be present and engaging in two-way communication.
Hofmeister seems to understand that if she is physically remote from the people who she serves – the public – then all is lost before she even begins. And she is right.