ALTUS — Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt came down here on Tuesday to speak to a high school government class and wound up getting an eye-opening education about the learning gaps in some rural districts.
Stitt spent about an hour answering questions in the Advanced Placement class, then asked the students to talk about themselves and their school.
First, a student said the school had lost its speech and drama department, which was a tough blow.
“Drama was a big part of our school,” she said.
Then, junior Jonathan Wright told Stitt, “We’ve had several classes cut.”
Among them, he said, were physics and anatomy. He wanted to know what Stitt would do about “the general decline in schools.”
Stitt, who was genuinely surprised by the science class cuts, responded with an improvised riff on evaluating local money for schools.
“We need to rethink how we fund stuff,” he said.
After the class broke up, Amanda Davis, the spokeswoman for Altus public schools, said the district had trouble attracting teachers who were certified for specific science classes.
“If we could find someone who wanted to teach physics and anatomy — that would be a priority,” she said.
Students in Jessica Robinson’s AP government class wanted Stitt to come speak to them after seeing some of his social media posts from the campaign trail.
Robinson, teacher of the year in the district, praised Stitt after his appearance for listening to the students and taking them seriously.
“It was amazing,” she said.
Stitt, who grew up in Norman and created a Tulsa-based mortgage company, asked the class of about 30 juniors and seniors how many had already been accepted to college. Several raised their hands.
One student asked Stitt what he would do to keep the school safe in the wake of the school shooting in Florida two weeks ago that killed 17 people.
“Whether we arm teachers. … There’s a movement to arm administrators and principals — might be a better option than actually the teachers,” he said.
“But ultimately I believe in local control. I believe the people in your community and the school board needs to figure out what they want to do here locally to make sure you’re well protected.”
Students were interested in the rigors of campaigning (going to all 77 counties), the social issues that interested him (criminal justice reform) and his political role model (Ronald Reagan).
Senior Gage Vernon asked him about special interest groups, and Stitt gave an AP government class lesson in how a bill becomes law in a system which, he said, had career politicians beholden to particular groups and industries.
“I had no idea I could hire a lobbyist, write my own legislation, get it passed that benefits my industry,” he said.
“And that’s too often what’s happening right now in our state.”