Pawhuska awarded $742,353 literacy grant

Robert Smith

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has notified Pawhuska Public Schools that the district has been awarded a $742,353 grant.

The grant, which is formally called an Oklahoma Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy grant, is to cover the period from April 2018 to June 2020. Another year of funding for Pawhuska is possible “provided all assurances have been met and adequate progress toward program goals has been made,” Hofmeister said in her notification letter.

In an email, Pawhuska Superintendent Janet Neufeld described the grant award notification as “big news for Pawhuska Schools,” but a majority of school board members indicated in a meeting Monday night, April 9, that they wanted more information before supporting Neufeld’s hiring recommendations for staff members to be paid out of the grant.

Neufeld recommended Kim Hester, the current principal of Indian Camp Elementary School, to become the literacy tutor. Board members Mike Tolson and Patricia Counts voted to support the recommendation, while Tom Boone and Scott Laird voiced opposition and Justin Sellers, the new board president, indicated he also would oppose the recommendation until he received more information.

Once it became clear the motion to hire Hester as the literacy coach would fail, the board held a discussion of the issue that resulted in an agreement to table the hiring recommendation until board member questions can be addressed. The board also agreed to table the hiring of a project director.

During the board discussion, Boone, Laird and Sellers asked questions about how much the literacy coach position would pay. There were also questions about the way the position was advertised, and about the timing of the decision to shift Hester to the newly created position.

Neufeld said the grant application had been submitted in January, and the district learned in March that it would receive the funding. She explained that the planning period for the grant is April and May of this year, which makes it important to hire staff members as soon as possible.

Neufeld said the literacy coach position is a teaching job, so it would pay less than being a school principal. The superintendent’s inability to immediately provide a specific figure for the literacy coach salary was a cause of concern for some board members, however.

“We’ve got all night,” Boone said at one point, when Neufeld said she would have to pull out the grant paperwork to be able to provide a specific number.