New Oklahoma Achieves director will miss MHS, students

Ryan Walters

Ryan Walters said he believes two programs will help Oklahoma become a top 10 state in education and help students living in poverty.

The former McAlester teacher who Gov. Kevin Stitt named Oklahoma's Secretary of Education last month said his teaching experience strengthened his passion for improving education in the state — and influenced initiatives aimed to help students living at or below the poverty line.

"Anything we can do to help those students out when they need resources and empower those students — we're going to champion that," Walters said.

Walters teaches blended advanced placement history courses at MPS and Millwood Public Schools — which he said are part of pilot courses for Learn Anywhere OK.

Gov. Stitt signed a bill this year requiring all Oklahoma public high schools to offer at least four Advanced Placement courses starting in the 2024-25 academic year. Districts can select which platform to offer courses.

Learn Anywhere OK grants all Oklahoma districts access to Edmentum’s suite of K-12 digital curriculum and instruction with public school being allotted specific funds for virtual instructional services.

He said the program diversifies access for students to take courses not normally offered at their local school and expand their education.

Walters said the initiative also strives to empower teachers to be effective while lessening the burden of teaching a full schedule and transitioning to virtual learning.

"The basics and principles of being a good, effective teacher haven't changed, but the details of how you do that — it looks different," Walters said.

Walters said the program originated from his experience at McAlester — hearing from parents of students at other districts say they wish some courses with teachers were available to them.

He said those discussions led him to the mission for the program.

"How do we get our best teachers to have an even greater impact on more kids?" Walters said.

"When I sit down with teachers across the state, you find these unbelievable people," Walters said. "When they're around kids and kids are able to interact with them, it makes a tremendous difference in those kids' lives."

Officials said McAlester Public Schools has already claimed allocated funding through Learn Anywhere Oklahoma.

The deadline for schools to claim funding for Learn Anywhere OK is Friday.

Walters graduated from McAlester High School in 2004, returned in 2011 and taught AP history. He was named MPS Teacher of the Year in 2015 and was a 2016 finalist for the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year.

He left MPS to become executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, a nonprofit founded by the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce involving businesses in education.

The nonprofit functionally became Every Kid Counts Oklahoma — which oversees the Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, which distributes $1,500 grants to families that fall below the poverty line to purchase curriculum, tutoring and technology through the $8 million from the Emergency Education Relief Fund.

"We wanted to give families and high level of flexibility to choose what resources are most effective for their learner," Walters said.

Funds for the program come through the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund and are made available for up to 5,000 Oklahoma families living at or below the federal poverty line.

The program is available to all Oklahoma students in K-12 with parents being able to log into ClassWallet and purchase items from 30 pre-approved vendor.

Applications are available on the Every Kid Counts Oklahoma website with those approved given instruction on how to log in and use the electronically deposited funds. Applications require verified income documents and more and can take 2-6 weeks to process.

Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III aohanlon@mcalesternews.com

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