Cathy Burden has not lost her passion for education.
Cathy Burden is a consultant for Impact Tulsa, which seeks to solve challenges facing Oklahoma educators.
Cathy Burden retired as superintendent of Union Public Schools in 2013, but she has not lost her passion for education.
Burden, 67, says it was “kind of a no-brainer” to move to Austin, Texas, to be closer to her grandchildren after leaving her Union post of nearly 20 years. However, she remains involved in Oklahoma educational issues as a consultant with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to support Impact Tulsa.
Impact Tulsa is an independent partnership of local community leaders from the arenas of education, business, philanthropy, the faith community and nonprofits. Together, they seek long-term, concrete solutions to the challenges facing educators.
Burden, who is Impact Tulsa’s advisor of data and outcomes, says she found it frustrating as a superintendent to see initiatives originating from the Oklahoma Legislature “as if they had to impose something on school districts.”
She says “working together across the community” is better than a system in which an A through F grade is imposed on school districts.
During her time at Union, Burden took steps to equalize opportunities for children living in poverty by developing community schools, which offered after-school and summer programs for students and involved parents through onsite medical clinics and educational activities.
“Schools have learned that it’s their job to reach out to parents,” Burden says. “A school is the home of a community, and parents are
invited in. A school becomes the hub of a neighborhood.”
Burden had a goal while at Union of graduating 100 percent of students “college and career ready.” With that in mind, she instituted the Union Collegiate Academy in 2012, which offers Union students onsite, concurrent Tulsa Community College courses; college and career counseling; and Advanced Placement courses. The academy also placed a district-wide PK-12 emphasis on helping students prepare for college.
These days, she is working to expand such dual-credit opportunities for high school students throughout the state.
In the past, “Leadership in other states left Oklahoma in the dust” in the area of concurrent high school and college enrollment, she says.
Burden began her 40-year career in the education field as a special education teacher and then worked as a school psychologist before moving on to administrative positions.
Among the honors she has received are the Oklahoma Foundation’s Medal of Excellence, the Oklahoma State Superintendent of the Year and the University of Oklahoma’s Career Educator of the Year.
Burden says teaching methods have changed through the years, with more of an emphasis on helping students learn to solve problems instead of just coming up with the right answer.
Parents are more involved than ever, she says, but the distractions of the modern world make the job of educators increasingly difficult.
In Oklahoma, she says funding problems make the challenges even greater. Many issues could be addressed with proper funding, she says, but there seems to be “a lack of political will” at the state Capitol to provide it.
“There is not enough of a focus on investing money where it can do the most good,” Burden says.
That’s why the work of Impact Tulsa is so important.
“It takes an entire community to come up with solutions.”
Making an impact
In October 2014, Impact Tulsa became the 52nd community partnership to join the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network. Since then, it has issued three recommendations for action based on findings from its initial baseline report:
- A universal kindergarten readiness standard and measurement tool available for use by the Impact Tulsa partner schools by the end of the 2015-16 school year.
- The identification and sharing of best practice strategies to increase reading proficiency by third grade. According to the organization, 74 percent of U.S. students who fail to read proficiently by third grade never catch up academically.
- Increase the percentage of high school graduates who are ready for postsecondary education and future careers.