Aspasia Carlson has been named Oklahoma High School Principal of the Year by the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration Free Press learned early Saturday.
She is in her seventh year as principal of John Marshall High School, an enterprise school in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
According to a list posted on the CCOSA site, it appears Carlson is the first OKCPS high school principal to win the award in at least 35 years. The list doesn’t go back beyond the 1981-82 school year.
“That’s great! She deserves it,” Senior Jamarco Prim said when Free Press told him about the award. He is a student at John Marshall. He said Carlson was “always working 24/7” to get more money for the school and scholarships for the students to go on to college.
In terms of interactions with the students, Prim described Carlson as being “a fair person” and said “she loves everybody.”
He said that even the students who get in trouble “still love Mrs. Carlson.”
Carlson possesses deep knowledge of the educational needs of students who grow up in poverty.
Before coming to OKCPS, Carlson taught in Title I schools in Dallas Public Schools. John Marshall is also a Title I school with over 80 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced lunches.
The Title I federal designation qualifies schools to apply for special grants and programs that combat the negative educational effects of poverty.
In an interview for an earlier Free Press story Carlson talked about the challenges a large number of her students face.
She said the biggest challenges were the “gaps in just foundational knowledge that they come to us with.”
“We know it’s related to generational poverty and poverty in our community, but is not necessarily an obstacle that we can’t overcome,” said Carlson. “
“So, our students are coming to us with those challenges. We have taken it upon ourselves to try and fill in those gaps for them.”
The “enterprise” status in the district gives John Marshall more independence to respond to the unique and constantly changing and unique needs of her students but still keeps the school close to the district structure.
Enterprise schools in OKCPS have more freedom to make decisions and have their own board, which is not true for their traditional high schools.
However, unlike charter schools, enterprise schools’ teachers are on the regular negotiated contract for the district and the administrators are knit into the overall administrative structure of the district.
There have been some high school principals of the year in surrounding districts in the OKC metro area, but CCOSA records do not reveal any who have been from an OKCPS high school in at least 35 years.
So, Carlson said that when she applied for the honor and went to the interviews, she wasn’t overly hopeful, especially when she found out who else was applying.
“When I went in for my interview, the people that I saw coming out and were also waiting were superstars in their areas,” said Carlson. “And so, I was very surprised to hear that I had won.”
Next she will begin speaking engagements to students who are preparing to be school administrators and to other organizations.
She says she plans to speak openly about the need for the Oklahoma Legislature to adequately fund public schools. She plans to put a face on the issue by telling about her students and the good John Marshall has done and is doing for its students.
“We cut 20 percent last year,” Carlson said. “We lost nine teachers, three support staff and one administrator. We are looking at more cuts for this year. We’re down to the bare bones.”
This summer she will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete for the title of National Principal of the Year.
OKCPS Superintendent Aurora Lora is out of town and attempts to reach her for comment were not successful early Saturday.
This reporter interviewed Carlson for Intersections Oklahoma podcast in December. You may listen to the 22 minute episode HERE.