By Cody Johnson
The Newcastle Public School Administration found a new home on the southeast side of campus in one of the oldest buildings in town, putting all central administration under one roof.
The First Baptist Church of Newcastle built the building as their new auditorium in 1948, however many others over the years have owned the building. City Hall resided there until they moved to the facilities on South Main St. The old building remained vacant until it was bought out by Summit Church, from whom the school system acquired the building. Summit remodeled the building previous to the school purchasing it.
Superintendent Tony O'Brien does not foresee outgrowing the new building anytime soon. For the first time, all the district's administration is in one location; previously special education was located in the middle school and technology was located in the high school.
"It's been very positive," O'Brien said. "The good thing is we have [another] auditorium here that's going to be able to be used for all kinds of meetings; town hall, board meetings, all of our professional development meetings."
The school administration went from less than 3,000 square feet to over 12,000 square feet with the move, which came about from a two-step process.
"We had bond money that had to be used on acquisition," O'Brien said, "and we needed more parking space at the ECC."
The school first acquired a building at 120 NE 2nd Street and some land to the east. They then cleared the land east of the building of trees and growth, leaving it a field to be later used for additional parking at ECC before selling it to the City of Newcastle as a new City Hall location for $478,000. The school retained the field east of the building’s parking area.
Superintendent Tony O'Brien then approached Summit Church about buying their building. Since January of 2013, Summit Church has been meeting on Sunday mornings in the school auditorium, having outgrown its facilities.
In an agreement with Newcastle Public Schools, Summit Church received $450,000 for its building, along with being able to use the school's auditorium on Sunday mornings for five years. They will also be able to use the school’s old administration building as office space for the duration of the five-year contract.
It was a great for both parties, Executive Pastor of Summit Church, Jay Stokes said. Not only was it good from a business perspective, it would also help out Newcastle Public Schools, the one buyer that could utilize the property to their best advantage, he said.
"We have a lot in common," Stokes said. "We are both trying to create an environment for families to grow."
Summit Church does not own land yet, but is looking to purchase some within the Blanchard, Tuttle, or Newcastle area in the future to build a new auditorium.
The School Administration began moving into their new building the first week of July. They have completed the move, however there are some safety and security issues still to be completed on the building.
By Darla Welchel
As the township of Newcastle continues to grow, so does enrollment on the districts four campuses.
The past two years has seen the largest increase in enrollment at the Early Childhood Center, but that is not the case for the 2014-2015 school year, said Superintendent of Schools Tony O'Brien.
The middle school received the biggest boost in numbers going from a total enrollment of 395 to 440 students, he said. The inflated numbers can create problems in terms of real estate as the school was already operating at capacity. In all, the district increased enrollment by a margin of 4.63 percent or 95 students.
Newcastle moved up 148 eighth graders to high school at the end of last year, and so far this year, they have seen an increase of 151 sixth grade students. These numbers do not even account for the other grades or new enrollment, he said.
"The middle school is definitely the tightest school [in terms of space]; every classroom is full," O’Brien said. "It was constructed to be easily built onto, but we have to have the funding to do it."
The district will need to pass another bond issue in order to add on to the middle school, but unfortunately, it will not be eligible to propose another one for the next five years, he said.
The speed in which a bond issue is paid off and a district's bonding capacity is all based on a very complicated formula. And although Newcastle Schools' net evaluation has grown, because of State Question 766, its funding has been drastically reduced, O'Brien said.
"State Question 766 took a huge slice of our [funding] pie," he said. "We went up in total growth (in ad valorem tax), [but with the new tax laws, we will receive less funds.] In essence, we should have added $4,335,549 to the tax roles, but in reality, we only added $2,037,181 because of SQ 766."
State Question 766 exempted intangible property — such as patents, contracts and mineral leases and knowledge — from ad valorem property taxes. The exemption applies to about 250 businesses, such as utilities, railroads and airlines.
Initially, officials estimated the change would cut around $30 million from school funding across the state.
Then the state Tax Commission estimated the tax break would total $50 million statewide, but recently, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration has estimated that the total will be twice that amount.
"This is a huge hit for us," O'Brien said. "It affects us three ways: general fund, building fund and bonding capacity."
"All those bonds sold in 2005 were sold with an anticipated six percent growth rate; we've hit that only one year, and because we haven’t grown at that rate, it has hurt us. When the kids are growing at a faster rate than the tax dollars are, I’m forced to stretch fewer dollars across more kids."
O'Brien said he wasn’t exactly sure what the district would do about the overcrowding at the middle school, and he has lost more than a little sleep over the problem. The board has come up with lots of plans such as transporting students to other locations and making use of portable buildings – none of which are ideal, but may be necessary.
"Our matriculation numbers are pretty flat for the next three years, but that is not accounting for any new homes and families," he said.
Superintendent O'Brien gave a complete report during his State of the School address during Tuesday's Chamber Business Exchange Luncheon. During his address, O'Brien said that there were two solutions to this problem.
"This is year two of SQ 766; the Tax Commission seems to think that we will have one more year of small businesses taking advantage of the deal and most big business have already used it, so it might lesson the affect of SQ 766," he said. "And number two, it depends on how much corporate growth we have; for instance, the new hotel is not on the books yet."
By Darla Welchel
The people have spoken, and soon the construction will begin on the Bridge Creek School campus.
After last Tuesday's election, the Bridge Creek Bond Issue passed with a 65 percent win, said Superintendent of Schools David Marrow. The proposal was for $15,680,000 to make much-needed additions and improvements to the District’s facilities.
"In this bond issues, we wanted to get something for all age groups, and we chose items we felt would relieve the most stress to our facilities," he said.
These are the projects slated to be completed, according to the Bridge Creek Bond Issue website:
The district demonstrates care for its community by proposing the community safe room inside the new gym. When asked why they were building it, Superintendent Marrow said, that last year's tornado showed them that the community members, especially the elderly, who came to the school seeking shelter in its classroom safe rooms, had difficulty navigating through the hallways.
"The school had let out for the summer, and we had already begun waxing the floors, so the hallways were filled with desks and chairs from the classrooms," Marrow said.
The new community safe room will be one large room, he said. Another reason for the need of a community shelter is because the school does not have the ability to house the community members in the event of a storm that occurs during school hours.
"During the school day, there is only room [in our existing 10 classroom safe rooms] for our students," Marrow said. "This new safe room will allow room for the community with outside access. We feel this will be easier for the community, especially the elderly to use because they can come in one door and won't have to navigate through students or the hallways."
The new gym, which will be air conditioned, will be connected to the existing old gym with a new girls and boys locker room in the middle, he said.
"When the old gym was built, we only had four basketball teams, now we have 10 teams," Marrow said.
The other much-needed building project is a middle school cafeteria with a kitchen and dining area, he said. The middle school, which moved to the old high school, does not have a cafeteria.
"Right now, I have 750 students using a cafeteria built for 450,” he said. “It will also add another meeting room that we can use."
To help alleviate growing pains at the high school, the bond issue will allow the district to add two more classrooms to the building, Marrow said. The addition will up the schools capacity to accommodate 50 more students, sustaining it for five to six years.
Two other projects will take place on the elementary campuses. First the gym at the elementary will be remodeled with new flooring and with the addition of air conditioning, he said. Next, and only after the high school gym project is completed, the original red brick elementary building will be remodeled and updated to accept students again.
After having some walls removed, the building is being used as the Bobcat wrestling room.
Marrow hopes that the district will be able to start on some of the smaller projects like the gym remodel and high school classroom as soon as school lets out next May. Kahle Wilson with Design Architect Plus will be drawing up the designs for the construction project.
"I appreciate the community's support," Marrow said. "The passage of this bond was a community effort and it is greatly appreciated."
By Darla Welchel
What will every well-dressed Racer be wearing this year?
Well, the Newcastle Senior Class of 2015 hope that it is some of their Spirit Sleeves and Checkered toe socks, said senior sponsor Theresa Hendrix.
The senior class will be selling Spirit Sleeves and checkered toe socks to raise money for their end-of-the-year senior trip, she said. The class will accept orders and payment until September 5 and special order spirit items will arrive two weeks after that day.
"The sleeves are kind of like socks that you put on your arms to like you are wearing long sleeves," Hendrix said. "We have school colors in stock, but we can order any color."
The spirit sleeves are perfect to add to your Racer t-shirt for cooler days. The colors and styles available in stock are royal blue and white, black and white, royal blue and black, black, white, royal blue, checkered and zebra, she said.
"If the fundraiser goes well, we will put in another order later," Hendrix said.
The sleeves can also be used as tights or leg warmers for little girls, she said. Both the sleeves and the socks are being sold for $10 a pair.
Contact co-senior sponsor Stacy Wright 387-6487 or Theresa Hendrix 387-6332 for more information.
By Darla Welchel
As a former Racer, Blake Riojas could be seen Friday nights carrying the ball up and down the field as a running back, but he was also a dedicated student.
In fact, the 2011 graduate was a Valedictorian for his class. With his Valedictorian scholarship, he has been attending the University of Oklahoma majoring in Aerospace Engineering for the past three years, and as he heads into his senior year, he’s getting another scholarship for his work in the field of research and design.
Riojas was recently awarded the Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program, which has been established by the Department of Defense (DOD) to support undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The program aims to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working at DOD laboratories, Riojas said.
This scholarship will not only pay for his last year of school, including books and tuition, it will also grant him a monthly living stipend, health insurance and mentoring in exchange for one year of civilian employment with the DOD. It is specifically set up for “first generation” students – meaning students that are the first in their families to attend college.
When Riojas applied for this amazing opportunity, he had to list his top three choices of places to work after graduation. Although he picked Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio and Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, Maryland as his two top choices, he put down Tinker Air Force Base just for his mom, Sherrie Ardies, he said.
The young scientist recently got his orders, and he was assigned to Tinker, which has made his mom quite happy, he said. Riojas won’t know until sometime after the first of the year which department he will be placed in at Tinker, but he is hoping he will be able to work with the propulsion or structure (designing internal structure of an air craft) teams.
By Darla Welchel
For the past 10 years, the Newcastle Education Foundation has been helping to insure that Newcastle Schools and teachers have the best teaching tools to educate its children.
And in order to do this, the NEF has to raise funds – lots of funds.
The non-profit organization’s largest fund-raising event, the Newcastle Education Foundation 2014 Banquet, will take place at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27 in the Newcastle Early Childhood Center.
The Scores For Our Kids event is offering sponsorship opportunities for any individual or business that cares for Newcastle’s educational success, said NEF Chairman Terri Bates. There are many different levels of sponsorship ranging from $300 to $2,000 that can make the difference in the amount of grants the foundation is able to award this coming year.
In addition to sponsors, the NEF is also seeking live and silent auction items for the night of the event, she said. And, individual community members can also participate and help out by purchasing banquet tickets at $45 each or $75 per couple.
“Our special guests are always our teachers and of course our sponsors. Without them, we would have no purpose or support,” Bates said. “We will also invite our first [Tracy Shirley Memorial] Scholarship recipient and her parents as our special guests.”
The banquet will include a special appearance from individuals with the OKC Energy Soccer organization, she said. And Sodexo will cater the meal.
The goal for this year’s fund-raising event is $35,000 before expenses, Bates said. And to help make that goal a reality, the NEF has hired for the first time an event planner.
“We are working on increasing our net dollars, while taking some of the stress off of Terri,” said Nicole Thomas, event coordinator with Epic Events LLC. “So far we have secured a Red River Rivalry package for the auction.”
To date, this package includes a night’s hotel stay for the anticipated OU/Texas game at the team’s hotel, she said. It also includes brunch and a bus pass to and from the game. It is not confirmed, but the package could also include tickets to the game itself.
Another item secured for the silent auction are tickets to the OKC Thunder vs. the LA Lakers basketball game in Bricktown, Thomas said. And they are working on many other items.
What’s it all for?
The dollars raised all go back into Newcastle Schools in the for of the Grants-To-Teachers Program and the newly formed Tracy Shirley Memorial Scholarship, which saw its first recipient at the end of last school year, Bates said. Other ways NEF helps Newcastle students is through supporting the Mona Brite Scholarship and for the third year, the NEF was able to give $25 to each classroom for to add to the teacher’s classroom allowance.
In the past years, the Newcastle Education Foundation has been able to award over $125,000 in classroom grants, she said. Some of those grants included: ECC Language Proficiency Programs, Elementary School Smart Boards, Middle School Lab Supplies and High School Forensic Science Materials.
By Darla Welchel
Kacie Turner is a business management consultant, and her mom, Kathy Turner has been an educator for over 30 years.
What could inspire the former Bridge Creek Elementary School principal and her daughter to take over a tearoom?
The love of connecting with people over a meal prompted them to take over as owners of the TeaLicious Bakery & Takery located at 200 SE 19th Street in Moore.
"Outside of my faith, my loves in life include hosting, business, leadership and enjoying friends and family over good food and tasty beverages," said Kacie Turner, 33. "I think as a society we need to get better at slowing down and connecting with other people. The tea room is a place where anyone can come and enjoy a well hosted atmosphere in an unhurried manner."
Although Kacie is currently living in Texas, Kathy and her husband Craig still live in Bridge Creek where they raised all three of their children. Kacie started her own consulting firm called Vantage Point two years ago, and Kathy retired from education in 2011 last serving as Superintendent of Fletcher Public Schools.
Now they own a tearoom filled with fancy tea sets, crystal chandeliers and loads of yummy teas, confections and satisfying foods.
"The TeaLicious Bakery & Takery offers amazing food such as quiche, wraps, sandwiches, soup and chicken salad,” said Kathy Turner. "We have also started featuring weekly specials not on the menu. Some of our recent specials have included apricot cole slaw, snickerdoodle cupcakes, olive oil cake and a barbeque chicken entree among other items."
But what really sets the tearoom apart from other eating establishments are the tea parties. Based on the traditional British High Tea, each pary is served on three-tiered plates and embellished with all the pomp and circumstance that will bring on the feeling of being in a Jane Eyre novel.
"Our tea parties are extremely popular; not only do friends come to share a tea party, but we host a great many tea parties for bridal and baby showers in our Crystal ballroom” Kathy said. “With the Deluxe Tea, each person gets three sandwiches, fruit, three desserts, and choice of tea. The Full Experience includes all of the, as well as soup and artichoke dip. It is a lot of fun. A tea party requires 24-hour advanced notice, so let us know if you are coming by."
Even if you are not in the mood for the High Tea, the variety and scrumptious flavor of the local fare will entice you to come back again and again – even the gentlemen have become regular customers, she said.
"We get a lot of businessmen who come to eat at TeaLicious, It is a really nice place to meet just for lunch or for a business lunch," Kathy said. "My goal is to create an atmosphere where people can come to eat and enjoy one another’s fellowship. Our staff tries to gather every morning to pray for our customers. We want people to feel blessed as they enter and feel blessed as they leave.It’s our desire that those who come in feel that they have been ministered to."
One of the newest features at TeaLicious is the Princess Tea Party where a princess will lead everyone in songs, tell stories and guide a craft, Kacie said. The first event will be from 3-4:30 p.m. on September 27. Each attendee can come dressed as their favorite princess, and tickets will be pre-sold in a limited quantity at the or by calling 814-9699.
The tearoom also offers a small retail space where it features tea sets for adults and children, party hosting items, aprons, placemats, jewelry, bath items and of course their house teas, Kacie said.
"My immediate goal with the tea shop is to provide an avenue for people to connect over great food and incredible service," she said. "My long term goal is to create a foundation for other woman entrepreneurs that will focus on developing business and leadership skills to help escape poverty and give back to the community."
Although the Turner girls business is in Moore, their roots are still in the Tri-City area and they love seeing their hometown friends in their shop.
"I have been amazed at how many people in the Tri-City area have come to eat at our shop," Kathy said. "We are very unique. People may come for lunch at 11 a.m., stay to drink tea and visit until two or three in the afternoon. We encourage people to stay and have conversation. At TeaLicious we want to be the premiere choice for those to have a wonderful lunch or even just to have a cupcake and a pot of tea."
TeaLicious is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and you can see the menu at www.tealicious.com or visit them on Facebook.
By Darla Welchel
Parent Teacher Organizations are an integral part of public schools as they help offset decreases in state funding.
Newcastle’s is no different; it holds a multitude of events each year to help raise money for the betterment of Newcastle Elementary Schools, and what they need most is involvement.
"As an organization raising money to benefit our schools, students, teachers and staff, we have fundraisers and different events that help us raise the money, said PTO President Joanah Salas. "So, having our community get involved, by donating or volunteering, is a great way to help raise the money. Volunteers are very important so that all fundraising is successful."
It’s latest membership drive will take place during the Newcastle School Open House from 4-6:30 p.m. on Aug. 11, she said. The PTO will have a table set up at each of the elementary schools and in the offices, and all it takes to join is $5 and a few minutes to fill out a membership form.
The new PTO t-shirts will be unveiled during this membership signup, she said. There are several varieties including hoodies, adult and youth t-shirts, and the PTO will now be able to accept credit and debit cards.
"At the end of the school year, the elementary schools had a contest to design a t-shirt,” she said. "Fourth grader Zoey Montgomery was the winner; she received a $50 gift card for her illustration, which will be featured on the shirts."
This year the Newcastle PTO has higher goals and will be trying harder to succeed in helping the students, Salas said.
"We have some new events we will be doing this year, and new board members ready to make this year a great one," she said.
Two of the new events are the Fall and Spring Carnivals, which will replace the Back-to-School Carnival, she said. The Fall Carnival will be held on Saturday, Oct. 25 and will coincide with Halloween. The students will be allowed to wear their costumes to this event, which will be held in the fourth and fifth grade gym. The Spring Carnival will also include a silent auction and will be held at the Early Childhood Center. All the details have not been worked out for these events, but the PTO will post information closer to the time of the carnivals.
Some of the old favorite fundraising events will be back this year as well, she said. Favorites like Valentine Grams, Hogs and Kisses, the canned food drive, Super Kids Day and the Walk-a-Thon.
"We help raise money for our schools. With this money the schools are able to purchase items needed for the schools and our students - to help further our kids education," she said.
The Newcastle PTO is offering the public a way to stay connected through a new app either through emails or text messages, Salas said. To receive event information, reminders and volunteer opportunities follow these instructions to sign up:
-Text alerts – text the message @newcastl to (405) 896-6340
Another way to stay connected is by attending the monthly PTO meetings, which are held either in the ECC cafeteria or the 4/5 (fourth and fifth grade) library, Salas said. All meetings are held at 6:15 p.m. Here is the list of meeting dates and locations:
-August 25, 2014 - ECC
-September 29, 2014 – 4/5
-October 27, 2014 - ECC
-November 17, 2014 - 4/5
-December 15, 2014 - ECC
-January 26, 2015 - ECC
-February 23, 2015 - 4/5
-March 30, 2015 - ECC
-April 27, 2015 - 4/5
-May 11, 2015 - ECC
You can also stay connected with the Newcastle PTO on Facebook and on their website (which is undergoing an upgrade) at www.newcastlepto.com.
Newcastle Middle School wrapped up the 2013 to 2014 school year by welcoming a new principal.
John Harris took over as interim principal Monday, May 8, after former principal Jim Rector resigned earlier than was originally expected.
“I’m very grateful to Superintendent O’Brien and the school board to give me this opportunity,” Harris said.
Harris began teaching in 1999 at Midwest City High School (MWCHS) where he also coached football, basketball and tennis.
In 2003, Harris became the assistant principal at Carl Albert Junior High School, in Midwest City.
After three years at Carl Albert, Harris brought his assistant principal skills back to MWCHS, where he worked until “about a week ago,” when he became the new head principal at Newcastle Middle School, he said.
Harris’s main goals as principal are to be an instructional leader and work on teacher development.
“I would describe my leadership style as empathy-based,” Harris said. “I do a lot of listening and a lot of watching.”
Harris lives in Midwest City but said the Newcastle community has been very welcoming to him and he intends to transfer his son to Newcastle Middle School in the fall.
Harris comes from a family of educators in which his parents, brother, sister-in-law, and wife all were or are currently teachers.
“It’s kind of the family business,” Harris joked.
Though he came from a teaching background, Harris first goal out of college was not teaching. He had seen the financial struggles his parents sometimes faced and pursued a sales career with various companies.
“I was that guy that thought I would make all kinds of money and be able to send mom and dad on a cruise,” he said. “But I was never really content with my choice of profession until I got into education.”
The Bridge Creek class of 2014 looked toward its future while celebrating its past Friday as the seniors walked across the stage at Crossroads Church to receive their diplomas.
The 87 members of the Bobcats’ graduating class filled the seats in front of the stage as hundreds of friends and family gathered behind them in support.
Student Body President Peyton Hayes opened the ceremony by asking those in attendance to rise while the Senior Band, along with the Bridge Creek High School Choir, sang the national anthem.
Senior Class President Priscilla Texter then welcomed both graduates and observers to the event that marked the culmination of all the seniors’ years of hard work.
Salutatorians Elizabeth Julch and Alicia Sandlin took turns addressing the graduates and their supporters.
“You are all here because you have a special purpose,” Julch said.
Julch went on to encourage her class to seek and find their individual purposes, as she would also do.
Sandlin spoke from personal experience, about being “the new girl who didn’t feel like she fit in” at Bridge Creek until a fellow classmate welcome her and changed her outlook on life, she said.
She also thanked the teachers and families for their support of the graduating Bobcats, noting that none of them would have made it without the personal sacrifices of those who helped them through the years.
Valedictorian Ellen Ryan also thanked those who supported the class before Madison Flores, singing, and Madeline Wichryk, on guitar, serenaded the crowd with a song.
Bobcats Principal Bruce Wedel then announced to the crowd that the class of 2014 planned something “very special” for their parents and guardians.
The entire class then rose from their seats and presented flower bouquets to their family members in the crowd.
After a slideshow presentation of a collection of pictures from years past, Wedel then recognized the “original seniors,” those who attended all four years of high school at Bridge Creek, by asking them to stand while the crowd applauded.
The McClain County Board of Education Members then presented each graduating Bobcat with a diploma.
Senior Class Vice-President Mikayla Cooper wrapped up the evening with a few closing comments before Wedel presented the finally graduated class of 2014 to a cheering audience.