(March 2, 2020) OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has announced the winners of its 2020 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence awards honoring five outstanding educators in Oklahoma’s public schools.
The awards will be presented at the foundation’s 34th annual Academic Awards Banquet on May 16 at the Embassy Suites Conference Center in Norman. Each of the five winners will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture, designed by the late Oklahoma artist Ron Roberts and produced by Artistic Glass Studio of Edmond.
This year’s Medal for Excellence winners and their award categories are: Michelle Rahn, a sixth-grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher at Will Rogers Junior High in CLAREMORE, elementary teaching; Shelley Self, an art teacher at COWETA High School, secondary teaching; Chuck McCauley, superintendent of BARTLESVILLE Public Schools, elementary/secondary school administration; Dr. David Bass, professor of biology at the University of Central Oklahoma, EDMOND, regional university/community college teaching; and Dr. Edralin Lucas, professor of nutritional sciences, Oklahoma State University, STILLWATER, research university teaching.
“Oklahomans know that education is the best investment we can make for our future,” said Cathryn Render, president of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in the state’s public schools. “By honoring these exceptional educators, we are sending a message that we value excellence in public schools and the professionals who have given so much of themselves to enrich the lives of our children.”
Michelle Rahn, winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Elementary Teaching, teaches sixth-grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at Will Rogers Junior High in Claremore. Rahn began her career as a small business owner, but discovered her true calling when she volunteered at a camp teaching children about nutrition and diabetes management. The experience prompted her to pursue a degree in elementary education.
Now a 12-year teaching veteran, Rahn has led the charge for her district to focus on STEM education, first by receiving a $23,000 grant to start Claremore’s first elementary STEM program at Westside Elementary School and now to expand STEM education at Will Rogers Junior High.
“Michelle encompasses all the qualities that make a great STEM teacher,” said colleague Ranetta Eidson. “She creates a classroom environment that allows students to problem-solve, work collaboratively in groups, construct with their hands, and think critically and creatively.” As a former business woman, Rahn is mindful to incorporate higher-level thinking skills and strategies such as cooperative learning and inquiry-based investigations to help students prepare for the future workforce.
In Rahn’s classroom, students have worked in teams to design a Mars Rover and lander that is tested by dropping it from a height of 20 feet to see if its precious cargo – a raw egg – will survive the fall. In a cross-curricular unit, her students have read the memoir “Rocket Boys” and designed and built their own rockets. Through inquiry-based investigations, students become young scientists, observing natural phenomena, collecting data to develop their own hypotheses and conducting peer reviews as teams. Rahn volunteers after school to host an all-girls STEM Club, which is currently re-engineering old toys to accommodate students with cognitive disabilities.
“Mrs. Rahn connects with students through interactive learning and inspires them to love science and science concepts,” said Alicia Doonkeen, who credits Rahn with inspiring her daughters’ fascination with science. “The students not only learn the subject, but they learn to love the subject!”
Committed to lifelong learning, Rahn invests her summers attending some of the nation’s top STEM teaching institutes and will soon earn her master’s degree in Teaching, Learning and Leadership with a focus on math and science from Oklahoma State University. Among her many honors, Rahn is a 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalist and recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.
Shelley Self, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, is a National Board Certified teacher who has taught art at Coweta High School for 28 years. Her impact in arts education reaches far beyond the students in her classroom, said Kathleen Blake, an Oklahoma City arts educator. “She is an over-the-top secondary teacher … committed to advancing the arts in her school, community and our state.”
Whether she is teaching a first-time art student or helping an Advanced Placement student develop a portfolio for college credits, Self seeks to be a catalyst, “nudging students to question, to take risks and to rise to a higher level of artistic development.” She challenges students to discover creativity through researching, expanding their experiences, sharpening their synthesizing skills and discovering more about themselves. “In Shelley’s classroom, there is a written component to every project,” says colleague Jennifer Deal. “She believes students need to think … about what decisions they made and why, analyzing the work based on things like materials, processes, ideation and their application of the elements and principles of design.”
Self seeks out opportunities for students to showcase their talents and serve the community through their art. Her students have participated in UnSung Heroes, a national initiative that honors lesser known heroes who changed history. Her Art Club students paint the windows of local businesses each Christmas, provide face painting for carnivals and sporting events, and host an annual Family Glaze Night for the community to glaze ceramics. Last Christmas, her Art Club was honored to represent Oklahoma by creating Christmas ornaments for the National Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C.
As a state leader in arts education, Self has been a mentor to countless art teachers and has served several years on the committee for Young Talent in Oklahoma, a juried high school art exhibition and senior portfolio competition. Self is the recipient of numerous teaching honors, including Oklahoma Art Educator of the Year and the Milken National Educator Award. Many of her former students have gone on to become artists, art educators and arts advocates.
“I have seen former students come back to visit her and share the impact her instruction has made on them and now, through them, is making on individuals she may never meet,” said colleague Kathleen Sanders.
The winner of the Medal for Excellence in Elementary/Secondary Administration is Chuck McCauley, superintendent of Bartlesville Public Schools. When he assumed the post in 2016, the district was facing a dire budget situation and low morale. In just three years, McCauley has led the passage of two historic bond issues, engaged stakeholders to develop and execute a strategic plan, and expanded opportunities for students.
“McCauley earned his way to the district’s top post through a soft-spoken leadership style combining humility with intelligence and drive – a combination that naturally attracts others toward a shared vision of a better future for all children,” said Dan Droege, a founder of Bartlesville’s Public Education Advocates for Kids.
In his first 100 days as superintendent, McCauley engaged key stakeholders, from students and parents to district employees and community members, to help create a three-year strategic plan. Inspired by their input, the district has implemented several new programs, including a 1:1 Student Computing Initiative providing Chromebook computers for all students in grades 6-12; Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum for all K-5 classes; and a new agriculture program for secondary students. In addition, the district established an Alternative Therapeutic Learning Academic Setting (ATLAS) for elementary students who struggle in school due to trauma.
Many of those projects, as well as facility improvements, were made possible through the passage of a $19.4 million bond issue in 2016 and a $17.9 bond issue in 2019. The first bond issue was also critical in saving teaching positions and protecting class sizes.
McCauley has also sought to improve school culture by engaging more with teachers through school site visits and community events. He hosts informal Coffee-with-Chuck discussions and has instituted the BPS Wellness Challenge, where school sites compete against each other for the highest participation in the Wooloroc 8K race.
During the education funding crisis in 2018, McCauley encouraged many fellow superintendents across the state to suspend school so teachers and parents could make their case at the State Capitol. He and his school board even worked with local Rep. Earl Sears to develop a bipartisan funding plan that would eventually provide for $6,000 teacher pay raises and other critical needs. “Chuck McCauley’s commitment to public education has been etched in stone,” Sears said. “Chuck’s action for students and teachers has moved Oklahoma forward.”
Dr. David Bass, the recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College, is a professor of biology and curator of invertebrates at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. A leading expert in aquatic invertebrates, Bass teaches courses ranging from beginning biology and ecology to invertebrate zoology and aquatic entomology. He also coaches UCO’s competitive sailing team.
“Even though Bass has been a professor at UCO for 35 years, he still works as if he were a green Ph.D. starting his first semester of teaching,” said Dr. Wei Chen, dean of the UCO College of Mathematics and Science. “He treats each class as a new adventure, constantly revising lecture notes, adding new contents and experimenting with new delivery approaches.”
Bass’s courses combine dynamic, well-organized lectures with lab work. He utilizes numerous strategies to accommodate different learning styles, including discussion, data analysis, writing, drawing, field work and problem-solving. “As I prepare for class, I imagine myself as a student in the course to better understand their situation,” Bass said. “I focus on the most important concepts and how they apply to the real world or use examples to which students relate.”
Most courses Bass teaches involve field studies where students make observations in nature. Bass instructs students to “get out of their human skin” and imagine they are the organisms being studied to gain a greater understanding of organisms and their environment.
Colleague Gloria Caddell has accompanied Bass and his students on weekend field trips to explore Oklahoma field biology. “David patiently gives each student individual attention and when they find an invertebrate, his excitement makes it seem like he is seeing it for the first time,” Caddell says. “He has never lost that joy of discovery, and his passion and curiosity are contagious.”
Because of Bass’s engaging teaching style and love for his subject, many non-majors have changed their major to become biologists. He mentors and encourages students to become involved in research and curation activities. At least 15 of his publications are co-authored by students.
“David taught me what is necessary to take a scientific project from idea generation to the final published project,” said Kinsey Tedford, a former nursing major turned biology grad, who is now a coastal ecologist and doctoral student at the University of Virginia.
The winner of the Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Research University is Dr. Edralin Lucas, the Jim and Lynne Williams Endowed Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Oklahoma State University. Lucas’s research focuses on the role of nutrition in promoting cardiovascular health and preventing chronic disease. A 30-year teaching veteran, Lucas has been recognized at OSU as an educator and mentor who sets high standards for academic success and goes the extra mile to help students succeed.
“She is understanding, yet holds students accountable,” said colleague Brenda Smith. “She communicates the importance of values, including hard work, striving for excellence, compassion as well as personal and professional integrity.”
Lucas teaches courses ranging from introductory Principles of Human Nutrition to graduate courses in Macronutrients and Nutrition and Evidence-Based Practice. She promotes student-centered learning by incorporating student-led discussion, in-class group assignments, hands-on activities and case studies. Lucas encourages students to apply lessons to their own lives to assess their own dietary habits and physical activity, which she hopes will impact their health long after they leave her class. “I am convinced that true learning is not simply a matter of memorizing facts, but understanding fundamental principles and being able to use these principles in everyday situations,” Lucas said.
Department Director Stephen Clarke said Lucas has a unique ability to take complex topics involving nutrient metabolism and make them applicable to students’ lives. Dr. Lucas played a critical role in reorganization of the department’s capstone nutrition course, which has dramatically improved student’s capacity to read and critically evaluate nutrition-related research.
“What I love most about Dr. Lucas is she always pushes us to reach higher, learn more, understand more and be more,” said undergraduate student Cole Dillman. “She does this in a way that is completely personalized to each student. She has the innate ability to push you just outside your comfort zone to promote expanded knowledge, yet ensuring to never push too hard as to cause regression.”
Lucas was also praised for her role as a research mentor to graduate students. She takes a hands-on approach to developing their skills related to scientific inquiry, communication and laboratory techniques. Dr. Lucas has been honored six times as her college’s outstanding graduate faculty mentor and has twice been honored with an OSU Regents Distinguished Teaching Award.
In addition to presenting the Medal for Excellence awards, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will honor 100 of Oklahoma’s top public high school seniors as Academic All-Staters at its May 16 banquet. The Academic Awards Banquet is open to the public, with admission priced at $50. Registration will open online April 1 at www.ofe.org.