Lay — leading Barnsdall schools is ‘honor of a lifetime’

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Jeff Lay says serving five years as Barnsdall’s school superintendent has been “the honor of a lifetime,” but he and his family are ready for a change.

Lay has tendered his resignation, effective at the end of the 2021-22 school year. He is pursuing another occupational opportunity, but was not at liberty yet to discuss it when the Journal-Capital came calling for an interview.

Lay, 48, is a classic small-town boy. He was born and reared at Wynona, Oklahoma (2020 Census population — 430). The only time he moved away was to attend college in Stillwater. He has been an educator for 25 years, and he worked at the Osage County Interlocal Cooperative In Hominy before taking the Barnsdall  superintendent job. He was finance director at OCIC.

Lay initially became certified as a business education teacher, but he has subsequently been certified as a middle school math teacher. He taught junior high math during one of his Barnsdall superintendent years, when the school district was unable to find another teacher.

“It’s much different than I ever expected,” Lay said of working as a superintendent. “It’s 24-7, 365. That’s what your contract says, but it’s literal.”

Not that he was completely unprepared. Lay obtained a superintendent license 14 years before he applied to be one; however, he has come to be aware that his every move affects the lives of others.

Lay’s wife, Rebecca, is an elementary school teacher. They have two daughters who attend Barnsdall Public Schools, where they will continue to be enrolled after his resignation as superintendent takes effect.

“They would strangle me if I suggested moving on to another school,” Lay said of his daughters’ attachment to Barnsdall schools. What his change of employment will allow, though, is for him to become more involved in the lives of his children.

Recalling that his elder daughter exclaimed, “Oh, thank God, yes,” when she learned about his resignation, Lay said he looks forward to being able to attend school events without being concerned about a toilet overflowing somewhere in the building.

Lay said one of the highest privileges he has had as Barnsdall’s school superintendent was to work with the late Joe Gilbert, who was a coach in the school district for 66 years.

Lay also said it has been “an absolute blessing” to work with and get to know Wilma Logue, who is now in her 67th year as a teacher in Barnsdall Public Schools.

”That speaks volumes about the community,” Lay said regarding the devotion of its teachers. “There is very little turnover in Barnsdall.”

Lay said two special accomplishments by the school district during his time there were the establishment of an agriculture education program in the schools, and carrying out a bond-financed program of facility upgrades.

A $6.5 million bond issue yielded about $4.7 million of construction, Lay said.

He was careful to clarify that the bond issue was the entire community’s accomplishment (not his), and to point out that a student — Chance McGill — was the primary advocate for the Agriculture program.

Lay also praised the Barnsdall Board of Education for its assistance and support.

”They took a chance on me,” he said.

Lay cited the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as having been especially trying.

”I have zero medical training,” he said. “ It wears on you.”