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Four Principals Win Seats in Oklahoma's Statehouse

Oklahoma principals and school administrators who ran for state office had a good day at the ballot box on Tuesday, with at least four winning their races, according to preliminary results from the Oklahoma election board.

Among the first races to be called was that of Republican Ronny Johns, the principal of Ada Junior High School in Ada, Okla., who defeated Democrat Daniel D. Manuel in House District 25.

johnsimage001.jpg

Johns, who spoke to Education Week this summer, said he was running for office primarily on an education agenda, including increasing education funding in a state where budget cuts had led his school to slash electives and leave staff positions unfilled. But his platform also encompassed addressing the opioid crisis, boosting funding for other state agencies, and working with legislators on both sides of the aisle.

And on the campaign trail, voters were eager to remind Johns to also pay attention to rural healthcare, infrastructure, and small businesses.

Oklahoma saw an unprecedented number of educators, primarily teachers and former teachers, declare their candidacy this year after teachers staged a nine-day walkout in the spring to call for increases in teacher pay and general education funding. Among the pool of educator-candidates were principals, former principals, and counselors.

Many of Oklahoma's legislators who voted against the funding package to increase teacher pay earlier this year were defeated in the primaries.

Other winners Tuesday included Republican Sherrie Conley, a school administrator in Oklahoma City, who ran in the 20th district against Steve Jarmon, a Democrat and former teacher. She defeated Jarmon by garnering 72 percent of the vote, according to Tuesday's preliminary results.

Melissa Provenzano, a Democrat and an assistant principal at Bixby High School, in Bixby, Okla., defeated Republican Dan Hicks in District 79.

And Danny Sterling, a Republican who retired at the end of last school year as principal of Tecumseh High School, ran unopposed in District 27 and won his seat.

But not all principals were victorious. Democrat Joan Gabelmann, an assistant principal in Lawton, about 90 miles from Oklahoma City, lost to Republican Trey Caldwell in District 63.

In North Carolina, nine-time incumbent Linda Johnson beat back a challenge from Aimy Steele, who until the end of last school year was principal of Beverly Hills STEM Elementary School in Concord, N.C.

Steele, a first-time candidate, was seeking to unseat the powerful chair of the state House K-12 and appropriations committees in the 82nd legislative district.

With all precincts reporting on Tuesday night, Johnson had nearly 53 percent of the vote, according to North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.  

While education was a central focus, Steele said she was equally passionate about adding her voice to issues that affect schools, including affordable healthcare, transportation, the opioid crisis, and criminal justice reform.

Steele told Education Week this summer that educators' voices were sorely lacking in the state capitol, when legislators debate and decide policies that directly impact schools and students.

Johnson told us that the Republican education platform—including boosting teacher and principal compensation and developing leadership opportunities for principals—had been shaped directly by listening to educators, including principals.

But she agreed that more current educators, including principals, should be part of the state's General Assembly.

Photo: Republican Ronny Johns, the principal of Ada Junior High School, in Ada, Okla., won his race in Oklahoma House District 25. Photo courtesy Ronny Johns.

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