New Oklahoma Achieves director will miss MHS, students

Ryan Walters

Gov. Kevin Stitt named McAlester graduate and education reform group CEO Ryan Walters as the Oklahoma Secretary of Education on Thursday.

Walters, a former McAlester Public Schools teacher and finalist for state teacher of the year, said he hopes to continue his passion to improve education across the state through the cabinet position.

“I’m ready to go and I’m excited,” Walters told the News-Capital. “I know the governor shares that passion for education and he very directly expressed that to me at how excited he is to continue toward his goal in education and getting us Top 10.”

"Ryan Walters is a committed educator who has dedicated his life to moving the needle in educational outcomes for all Oklahoma students and to supporting his fellow teachers," Gov. Stitt said in a press release. "His perspective as a public school teacher, and his leadership experience as the CEO of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, will be invaluable as we continue to work toward Top Ten results in education."

Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education drives education initiatives statewide and works with State Board of Education, college and university boards of regents or trustees, the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability and the State Board of Career and Technology Education.

Walters said he will work closely with Oklahoma's State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma State System of Higher Education CEO Dr. Glen D. Johnson, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education State Director Marcie Mack and more to help the state improve its education system.

“We’ll set goals and work together on what we can do to help improve the overall education system,” Walters said.

"Ryan Walters has been a highly respected teacher committed to his students and their success. Our collaboration with Ryan began in 2016, when he was named an Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalist, and has continued through his membership on my Teacher Advisory Council. He is a great choice, and we look forward to strengthening our partnership in his new role as Secretary of Education during this important time of continued service," Hofmeister said in a press release.

Walters replaces Oklahoma Secretary of State Michael Rogers, who had also been serving as the state’s secretary of education since January 2019 before resigning the position in August and remaining as secretary of state. His nomination requires approval by the Oklahoma State Senate.

He graduated from McAlester High School in 2004, attended Harding University, and returned to his alma mater as a teacher in 2011 to teach AP history and help coach basketball and tennis.

Walters said McAlester teacher Sherri Burden inspired him to become a teacher and make connections to influence student’s lives.

He was named McAlester Public Schools Teacher of the Year in 2015 and was a 2016 finalist for the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year.

"Ryan is one of the most remarkable educators to have served students at McAlester Public Schools, and I am excited about his nomination to join Governor Stitt’s cabinet as Secretary of Education," McAlester Public Schools Superintendent Randy Hughes said in a press release. "Ryan’s commitment to excellence in the classroom translates into his passion for achieving excellence in education across our state. Ryan has also committed to empowering teachers throughout his career and ensuring educators have their voices heard when it comes to how Oklahoma students would benefit most from their education. We are proud to have Ryan as a longstanding member of the McAlester Public Schools family; as a student and as a teacher, Ryan has set a standard for McAlester Buffaloes for generations to come!"

Walters left McAlester to become executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, a nonprofit founded by the Oklahoma State Chamber focused on involving businesses in education that functionally became Every Kid Counts Oklahoma.

Every Kid Counts Oklahoma oversees the Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, which will distribute $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. Walters said around 2,000 were pre-approved to receive such grants and more applications were going through the process.

Walters said he is excited to continue working with Stitt and partners to continue bridging the digital divide that impacts students statewide — especially during distance learning.

“Districts try to do this, but there’s always families that fall in the gap,” Walters said. “There’s always districts that have a tougher time getting resources to families or to students, so we just felt like a really targeted approach toward those students with that low of an income in that family was a great way to make sure those students are covered and have the ability to learn in this environment.”

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com