, Muskogee, OK

April 29, 2013

Evaluator visits RAA in award competition

His focus is character education

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Muskogee’s Rougher Alternative Academy is in the running for a National School of Character award, and school officials say it should win.

“We deserve it,” said John Cooper, RAA’s at-risk counselor. “Especially our kids — they’re the ones that belly up.”

Cooper was among school officials who met Monday with an evaluator from the Character Education Partnership at the school.

The evaluator, Joe Mazzola, the vice president of CEP, interviewed students, toured the school and met at length with teachers and administrators.

RAA has already earned a State School of Character award, making it eligible for the national award.

Mazzola said he was looking for schools that exhibit “11 principles of effective character education,” and they must meet all 11.

Those principles include promoting core values, providing students with opportunity for moral action, fostering students’ self-motivation and engaging families and community members as partners.

Mazzola told school officials that RAA is doing well in several areas.

“I was asking students about their future plans, and one said to become a  cosmetologist, one to go into medicine — not one said, ‘I don’t know,’” he said. “That shows they’re dreaming and aspiring to do something with their lives, and I think the school is inspiring them to think big.”

Mazzola heard about the Rougher ROAD — Respect, Opportunity, Achievement, Determination — and numerous character projects being used at RAA, plus community projects involving the school.

He was particularly impressed by the district’s character education director, Madison Tomlinson, he said.

“We find that there’s usually a local champion who’s a leading voice,” Mazzola said. “And here’s a perfect example of a person making a difference in the community. It’s a wonderful thing to see happen.”

Mazzola said once all the schools across the country are evaluated, a blue-ribbon panel will go over the evaluations and make the decisions.

Character Education Partnership officials hope to announce winners in early May, he said.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or