ENID, Okla. — Jena Nelson, a Democrat running for state superintendent of public instruction, attended a fundraiser Monday night at the Champlain Mansion in Enid.
James and Ann Bryant opened their home to a group of supporters who came to meet the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year and hear her plans for the future.
“As state superintendent, I’m not running for myself or the people of one group,” Nelson said. “I am running for all of us to make sure that every kid in the state of Oklahoma has a great education.”
Nelson became a statewide name when she won her award and traveled the state and different parts of the nation in a role of teaching ambassador. She worked closely with the Oklahoma Department of Education and became an outspoken advocate for the changes she believes need to be made in Oklahoma education.
“First, I want to address teacher flight in the state,” she said. “The teachers are here, but they left education because of pay, respect and constantly being under attack. Despite what some want you to believe, Oklahoma teachers are not indoctrinators but professionals who love our kids.”
Nelson has been a teacher in Oklahoma for 17 years and is currently back in the classroom teaching English in the sixth and seventh grade at Classen SAS Middle School.
She won her Teacher of the Year Award at Deer Creek Middle School.
“I think the most important issue of this election is keeping public funds in the public schools,” Nelson said. “The vouchers will defund public education and we will see rural schools close.”
Some Republicans want to pass legislation to allow public funds to be used for private education in the form of vouchers to parents.
Nancy Presnall, chair of the Garfield County Democrat Party, echoed concerns about public education and vouchers.
“I don’t want to see the end of Friday night lights across our county,” she said. “If we take funding away from the public schools and put it in the private sector, we will destroy public education.”
Here co-chair Norman Gray agreed. “People need to understand how important this issue is and vote for education in Oklahoma and not a party,” he said. “I support Jena Nelson because she is an exceptional teacher and understands the issues.”
Nelson also has taught at Edmond Public Schools, Putnam City Public Schools and in East Baton Rouge, La. She lives with her family in Edmond. Her husband Karl is a professor and director of choral studies at the University of Central Oklahoma. She has a 17-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.
“To say that I didn’t have a great home life would be an understatement. Growing up in extremely humble circumstances, I wanted a place to feel safe and cared for outside of my trauma-filled home and I found that at school,” Nelson said. “To be the best it can be, Oklahoma needs to focus on humanizing teaching, recognizing teachers as professionals and integrating mental health awareness in the classroom. Whether they come into school with scars on their arms or scars on their hearts, we have always been the constant for them.”
Nicholas Payne provided entertainment for the evening playing his guitar. He is running for state House District 40 in November against incumbent Rep. Chad Caldwell. Payne announced his run in April.
“We have some momentum, but it is still an uphill battle,” he said. “I am running because I feel like incumbent Chad Caldwell needs an opponent and I want to ensure public school funds.”
Payne went to school at Pioneer-Pleasant Vale Public Schools and said he knows the value of public education and the importance of the school to small communities.
“My opponent Caldwell co-signed the bill for vouchers in the House,” he said. “I feel like it’s wrong for District 40 and our schools.”
The evening ended with Nelson giving a speech to the crowd. Connie Vickers listened and was impressed.
“I think it is to her credit that she went back to the classroom,” she said. “She is an excellent teacher, committed to education and a nice person. She even raises chickens.”