David Cash has a message for Pawhuska parents — he wants their children to succeed in school, coming away with knowledge and skills to go with their grades.
“I’m all about creating paths for students,” Cash said, adding that a “cookie-cutter” approach to teaching is not working out well for Oklahoma public schools.
“What we’ve missed in education is we concentrate so much on the grade and not on the knowledge,” he said. “And we’ve got to connect the two.”
Cash, 51, took over as superintendent of schools in Pawhuska last week. He has previous experience as superintendent in Chickasha and Locust Grove. When he reported for work in Pawhuska, Cash immediately began walking through school buildings, meeting people and learning about the issues he would be expected to address.
In a matter of days he became thoroughly engrossed in trying to meet instructional challenges, such as adding a Spanish course. He said it wasn’t easy, but he was working with a group, trying to get the course added for the fall semester.
Cash grew up in Stillwater and graduated from high school there. He attended Oklahoma State University, so Pawhuska’s orange-and-black colors are a natural fit for him. He said his decision-making process is oriented primarily toward what will most benefit children and youth.
“At the end of the day, the most valuable asset for this community is these kids,” he said. Cash said he will be examining ways to improve the school system so that parents who may have transferred their children elsewhere will want to bring them back to Pawhuska Public Schools.
“I am a kid-first, kid-second, kid-third person. That’s why I’m in education,” Cash said. He fears schools have trained youth to be test-takers and worry about their grades, but have neglected to engage their curiosity and inspire them to learn.
“We’ve done a terrible job of watering down the natural curiosity that kids have,” he said.
Similarly, with regard to math, Cash expressed the view that youth are pushed to do large amounts of calculations quickly, but frequently without fully understanding what they’re doing and how to apply it in the world outside school.
“We train them to do an absurd amount of math,” Cash said, noting that research has shown more than 80 percent of American youth say they hate mathematics. “We’ve trained them to hate it.”
The new Pawhuska superintendent voiced the intent to find ways to help each student get the academic stimulation that he or she needs. In situations where it will be the best option, he will be looking at adding remote, online course opportunities, he said.
For most of a year before coming to Pawhuska, Cash worked with the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, a non-profit that provides assistance to public schools, traveling the state to help principals and teachers implement best educational practices.
Prior to that, he was superintendent at Chickasha for three-and-a-half years. He was superintendent at Locust Grove for 10 years, and he once served as a principal at Agra.
“That’s where I really became fascinated with the structure of schools,” Cash said, explaining he did not mean to refer to some rigid structure of institutions. Instead, he is interested in looking for ways to remove obstacles for students and create paths to personal success for them. He’s interested in insights that educational research can provide.
Cash describes himself as a believer in knowledge as the source of power for individuals to create their own lives. He is an advocate of career tech and early college programs. He is also firmly convinced of the need for parents and students and the community in general to all push in the direction of what is best for individual students.
Cash said he had very candid, open discussions with the Pawhuska Board of Education during the superintendent interview process about his previous experiences in school administration.
Cash said he informed the Chickasha board last summer that he would soon be leaving. He then stayed in the position long enough for them to find an interim superintendent.
He said it was after he had departed the Chickasha job that some controversy erupted in that community relative to the employment status of several individuals. He described that set of events as being “literally like a nuclear bomb” going off, but clarified he had already left the school district when it happened.
In the course of his professional experience, Cash has also worked with school superintendents on budgeting practices. He said that he has already found some things in regard to school financial management on which the Pawhuska district may be able to improve.