Three candidates are vying to fill the remaining two years of Muskogee Board of Education, Seat 4. Rex Eskridge, who was appointed to the position in 2021, filed to finish the term. Debra HorseChief and Wayne Divelbiss also have filed.

The election will be Feb. 8. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will have a runoff on April 5.

The candidates answered the following questions:

1. What do you consider the most important issue facing Muskogee Public Schools?

HORSECHIEF: "Due to the pandemic, most students in the nation are behind. Therefore, class size and teacher shortage are very important. Research shows the school districts with the lowest pupil-to-teacher ratio has the higher test scores. The class size should reflect a ratio that will allow teachers to give the needed attention and support to ensure that all students advance to the expected results. Teachers will feel appreciated and respected with smaller class sizes. More teachers could be recruited to the district because of attention to this area."

ESKRIDGE: "A decline in student enrollment. The monies we receive from the state is formulaic. This formula is based on the number of students we have enrolled. These monies drive just about all aspects of total operations cost including the number of personnel we can hire to buildings we can successfully maintain if it becomes necessary to close one.  On a positive note for MPS, the Board believes that we have hit our plateau and that our numbers will begin to increase. Loss of enrollment is not just an MPS issue. With the pandemic it's become a state and national trend for students to stay online rather than attend in person."

DIVELBISS: "The downward enrollment trend over the last six years."

2. Why do you think you are the best candidate for the Muskogee Board of Education?

ESKRIDGE: "As a life-long resident of Muskogee, I am truly committed to this community and Muskogee Public Schools. I believe that a good education is the best and strongest way to help the youth of Muskogee become successful. They are our future. I respect Muskogee educators and am committed to provide them with the resources they need to be successful at their jobs. As a retired Muskogee Police Officer of 49 years I am experienced in strategic thinking and problem solving."      

DIVELBISS: "I'm a parent and we need more parents on our school board."

HORSECHIEF: "I have been blessed to experience being a member in all areas that make up the Muskogee Public School District. I was a student here for 12 years, a teacher for 26 years, an administrator for 12 years, and a parent/grandparent for over 30 years in Muskogee. I am an advocate for children and will work hard to see their success. Also, a woman being a lifelong teacher/learner on the board will make it well-rounded and complete. I would pursue making sure all students succeed and meet their optimal potential."

3. How should subjects such as slavery, Jim Crow, the Trail of Tears and women's rights be taught in the classroom? 

DIVELBISS: "Winston Churchill said, 'Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.' We need to teach those topics like we have taught them for the last 50 years and stay within Oklahoma state standards."

HORSECHIEF: "These subjects, as with all subjects in our great history, that are taught to our children should be factually accurate and presented without regard to philosophies and opinions."

ESKRIDGE: "These topics are among our United States history curriculum and these are among the Oklahoma Academics Standards that have been developed to help guide our teachers and students through the instructional learning process. I believe that if we are going to make a better future for this nation, our state and city, we must learn from the past. Much of our history has a dark side. We shouldn't try to wash it away by either ignoring or trying to manipulate certain parts of it. I have seen too many people that try to 'out-smart the truth' and they never succeed at what they were trying to accomplish." 

4. What is the best use for school sites such as Grant Foreman Elementary, Harris-Jobe Elementary, Irving Elementary, Early Childhood Center?

HORSECHIEF: "The best use for the Grant Foreman Elementary site at this time is to utilize it as a temporary relocation facility for other elementary sites being remodeled. Harris-Jobe Elementary is perfect for our Professional Development and Parent Resource Center. Irving Elementary should remain as a neighborhood elementary school. The Early Childhood Center is centrally located in the city. It was remodeled just for 4-year-old children. All the restrooms fountains, technology boards, and rooms are the perfect size for them. It has been successful in this area for 21 years. Possibly in the future Muskogee Public Schools could partner with Head Start and make the Early Childhood Center a site for 3-year-old students." 

ESKRIDGE: "Currently, it is anticipated Harris-Jobe is going to become our new ECC and the present ECC becoming a Staff Development Center. Additionally, Grant Foreman and Irving elementary schools are still in the process to receive their renovations. However, with the lower turn in enrollment we need to see what our community and Long Range Planning Committee present and the Board will make the best informed decision. The Board will need to remain flexible to adjust and address any new issues that may arise. As a Board member, it is my responsibility to be a good steward of the monies that this committee has entrusted me with." 

DIVELBISS: "I would look back at the 2019 school bond and do what we said we were going to do with these schools and not change the plan."

5. Does MPS need another bond issue to improve school sites and technology? Explain your answer. 

ESKRIDGE: "I believe this is an issue that will be determined by more than one person as our educational system continues to develop there will be changes needed. In order to meet future needs, we need to remain transparent, continue to develop and carefully evaluate data for future needs that will make our public schools inclusive and ensures a genuine service for our students. The Board, along with the Superintendent, will continue to gather information to present to the community and Long Range Planning Committee for input and feedback on how and if we move forward with any future bond requests." 

DIVELBISS: "No! We need to complete the current bond before we bring another bond to the table." 

HORSECHIEF: "Not at this time. However, future funds are required for our district to stay current, improve sites and give our students the best education possible. They are needed to make our district inviting to new families and attract businesses to Muskogee." 

MEET THE CANDIDATES

NAME: Debra Y. Davis HorseChief.

AGE: 66.

HOMETOWN: Muskogee.

EDUCATION: Master of Education in Administration.

OCCUPATION: Retired principal.

FAMILY: Husband, Sam HorseChief; five children, 13 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren.

HOBBIES: Arts and crafts, bringing joy to others.

• • • 

NAME: Wayne Divelbiss.

AGE: 50.

HOMETOWN: Muskogee.

EDUCATION: Muskogee High School.

OCCUPATION: Territory Sales Manager.

FAMILY: Two sons, Charlie and Carter.

HOBBIES: Fishing, hunting; Serving on board of Kids' Space, City Facilities Board.

• • •  

NAME: Rex L. Eskridge.

AGE: 76.

HOMETOWN: Muskogee.

EDUCATION: Muskogee Public Schools, Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University. 

OCCUPATION: Retired from Muskogee Police Department – 49 years of service.

FAMILY:  Wife Kathy; son Keith Wilson; granddaughters, Kinsley and Harper Wilson, and Gracie, Ellee and Lyndee Davenport.

HOBBIES: Reading, family time, history, travel. 

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