Charlie Hollar, Oklahoma Visionary Education Leader
Having enjoyed a successful business career, Charles E. Hollar elected to retire at age 55. He had established himself as an outstanding leader in his city and Oklahoma. Little did he realize he was about to discover an unbelievable passion--education.
Recognizing the need for improving the quality of Oklahoma public education, he began his journey. He devoured education and leadership books, asked a lot of questions, listened to educational and business leaders, and conducted extensive research.
He barely had the boxes unpacked from his business when he created an organization, which would later be named Great Expectations. A few he recruited for the initial board were Burns Hargis, Gene Rainbolt, Bill Brown, Sue Boettcher and Dr. Kermit McMurray. The intent was to create a high-energy program with emphasis on the classics, classroom management, mutual respect, high expectations, discipline procedures and increased teacher knowledge and skills. In 1990, he presented the idea to new State Superintendent Sandy Garrett. She gave her support. Teachers and principals at twenty-five “at risk” elementary schools were selected for initial training.
“During my twenty years as State Superintendent, Great Expectations
was the most innovative program in our state.”
Sandy Garrett, State Superintendent
The lynch pin of Great Expectations is the Summer Institute. The initial training on the campus of Northeastern State University in 1991 attracted 175 teachers from the original 25 schools selected for this pilot program. Over the next 20 years over 35,000 teachers and principals have been trained. This year Summer Institutes will be conducted at 22 locations. Oklahoma attracts the majority of participants; Texas is second. There are Summer Institute graduates in 18 states. In Oklahoma over 30 percent of elementary students are taught by a teacher who has graduated from Summer Institute. There is also a large penetration at the secondary level.
Over the past 20 years, Hollar has earned the reputation of having visited more schools and classrooms than anyone in Oklahoma. He enjoys observing in classrooms and asking students questions. He visits with teachers and principals about their implementation of Great Expectations and asks what more can be done to support them.
Hollar serves as volunteer CEO and Dr. Linda Dzialo is the Executive Director. There are nine former master teachers who are mentors. These mentors teach and facilitate summer training and then spend the school year mentoring in the schools.
The results have been dramatic in schools fully implementing Great Expectations—test scores go up, discipline referrals to the principals’ offices go down, students are excited about learning, parental involvement is increased, and teacher and student attendance improves.
Great Expectations is currently involved in its biggest challenge and opportunity. Oklahoma City has contracted with Great Expectations to train all teachers and principals in its 56 elementary schools. The poverty rate is high (86 percent free and reduced lunch) and demographics offer a special challenge. Hispanic growth has gone from 17 percent to 40 percent in the past 10 years. African American population is above 30 percent; Whites make up 20 percent and the balance is Other.
The initial 28 Oklahoma City schools have had leadership training given to their principals and five lead teachers. Many of the teachers have completed Summer Institute. Over 350 requested training over two long weekends this winter and the balance will be trained this summer.
In still an other case, a recent letter from Houston Superintendent Dr. Terry B. Grier said, “The district is committed to offering such an innovative and research-based program for the benefit of our students and we look forward to the development and expansion of Great Expectations across our district.”
Nationally recognized researcher Dr. Ron Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap initiative at Harvard, is including Oklahoma City in a national research study. In 1993, Dr. Ferguson stated in a research paper he wrote about Great Expectations, “As we follow this initiative over the coming years, it may become an important source of data from which to learn what it takes systemically to produce the learning outcomes that the twenty-first century will demand of America’s schools.”
Early Great Expectations experience revealed that there was a lack of quality leadership training offered to public school administrators by universities. While serving as Assistant to President Roger Webb at Northeastern State University, Hollar received the “go ahead” from the State Department of Education in 1994 to create Oklahoma’s first Principals’ Academy. The purpose was to offer training similar to that provided to mid and upper level corporate management. It was patterned after the Aspen Institute. Dr. Leo Presley, soon to become a nationally known facilitator and executive coach, developed and facilitated the academy training and future academies. The principals were starving for leadership training; the evaluations were glowing.
Word of the success spread among professional educators across the state and after in-depth studies, separate academies were created for university presidents and direct reports, public school superintendents and direct reports, and leaders from CareerTech. Once again, a responsive cord had been touched.
In these academies, as well as the Principals’ Academy, there were four days of training in the summer and then five follow-up sessions at different locations in the state, e.g., Quartz Mountain Lodge, St. Crispin’s, and Kerr’s Retreat Center at Poteau.
Not willing to stop at these four academies, Hollar believed professors and teachers, as well, would value leadership training--after all, they were teaching the leaders of tomorrow. The Professors’ Academy was launched in 1999 and the Teachers’ Academy in 2000. Once the programs were firmly established, they were transferred in 2005 to the leadership component of University of Central Oklahoma.
The past 20 years have been anything but retirement years for Charles E. Hollar. Few have had such an impact on Oklahoma’s society as this humble servant leader. In doing so, Charlie demonstrated a remarkable set of qualities and skills that enabled him, to vision, conceive, research, develop, syndicate, fund, staff with the right people, enhance on the run and sustain Great Expectations for over 20 years and to have it on the cusp of significant expansion beyond the borders of Oklahoma