Renewed exchange partnership benefits students, educators

Superintendent Janet Barresi Special to The Sun The Edmond Sun Wed Jun 22, 2011, 06:33 PM CDT

EDMOND — It’s not every day I have the chance to meet face to face with educators and students nearly 5,000 miles away, but that’s exactly what I did last week.

I held a video conference from Oklahoma City with officials with the Académie d’Amiens to renew Oklahoma’s cultural exchange partnership with the regional education agency in northern France.

Académies are the French equivalents of state departments of education in the United States. The Académie d’Amiens includes three smaller divisions in the region of Picardy.

Our new memorandum of understanding marks the fourth year for the agreement, and I was pleased to continue this important partnership.

In the new knowledge economy, our students must be prepared to engage with the rest of the world. As students prepare to compete in the global marketplace, it’s vital that they engage with and understand different perspectives throughout the world. Educators can talk to students about it, but it has more impact when students experience it directly.

Our partnership with Amiens is an essential part of our efforts to rethink how we deliver education. The partnership builds and expands ties between Oklahoma and French educators and students by including student exchanges, group projects between schools, video conferences and online wiki-based collaboration.

Our renewal of the partnership with Amiens was also a great reminder of the dedicated educators we have working in our state and at the Oklahoma Department of Education. Key to organizing the agreement renewal was Desa Dawson, director of world languages for the state department. Dawson has also been honored in France as a Chevalier (a Knight) of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Order of Academic Palms) an Order of Chivalry for academics and cultural and educational figures. And earlier this year, Dawson was honored by OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education in the 2011 Celebration of Education awards.

More information about pairing with a school in Amiens is now available on the State Department of Education’s Website ( under World Languages .  Those interested in learning more can contact Dawson at

or by phone at 521-3035.

JANET BARRESI is state superintendent of public instruction for Oklahoma. She may be reached via her website at

The beginning of the year provides each of us the opportunity to reflect on our lives and create goals for the coming year.  A perpetual list maker, my goals are always subdivided into categories such as physical fitness, health, financial, and philanthropy.  Inevitably, the personal goals are the easiest to determine.  As I look to the philanthropy, however, my decision becomes more difficult.

With so many worthwhile avenues, it can be easy to overlook the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education when contemplating giving.  I have had the opportunity to spend the last several months learning about the Rainbolt College, and I am increasingly in awe of all that has been achieved with the generosity of our donors.  In 2010, the College achieved the following:

·         The completion of the renovation and expansion of Collings Hall, which has added over 17,000 square feet of student and faculty space, including new classroomsand state-of-the-art equipment that supports learning, encourages collaboration, and fosters ingenuity for the teachers of tomorrow.

·         Increased scholarship funds; 10% increased dollar distribution from 2009, with the average student recipient receiving over $1,000 in assistance.

·         Expansion of the Puebla, Mexico, immersion and graduate certification program that allows students to become “global educators” through language mastery and a thorough understanding of the culture to further aid students from different nationalities in succeeding in the classroom.

·         The addition of scholarships for current teachers to attend the study abroad programs to increase the effectiveness of ESL programs.

·         A new location for the Counseling Psychology Clinic that includes therapy rooms, classrooms, and state-of-the-art teaching technology.

·         The expansion of graduate scholarships specific to Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and Educational Psychology.

Without the dedication of our education focused supporters, these accomplishments would have been insurmountable.  The common thread between all of these goals and accomplishments has been the idea of helping individuals and improving the stature of the College.  This idea of helping others is the calling of educators.

John Bunyon once said, “you have not lived todayuntil you have done something for someone who can never repay you.

As you reflect on your college years, what helped you get through?  Was it financial aid, scholarships, or a graduate assistantship?  Did you have a professor who taught you not only the ins and outs of the classroom, but how to maneuver life?  Were you drawn to the University of Oklahoma due to the cutting edge technology that the College provided?  When you think back on those years now, is it hard to ward off a smile?

In this time of economic strife, when education is continually catapulted into the political forefront, what legacy are you leaving?  To claim gifts to the College as important is an understatement.  Gifts to scholarship funds, memorial funds, study abroad programs, general operations and more are essential to the very fiber of the University.   In fact, many education students rely on scholarships and financial support to pay for their education.

It is not just the large gifts that are important.  Your gift of $50 or $100 could be the difference between famine and fortune for a student.  Bigger still, if each alumni and friend was able to part with just that small amount, it would make an enormous impact on the College as a whole.

As you plan for 2011, I hope you will consider supporting the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.  For information concerning giving opportunities, please contact me at (405) 325-1266.  I would love the opportunity to show you around our beautiful new building, or sit down with you and hear your comments and visions for the future.  In the meantime, please accept my whole-hearted appreciation for all that you do for the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.

Every parent wants the best for their little bundle of joy, but not all parents know where to look to find the highest caliber of early childhood education.  Luckily, the folks at the Institute of Child Development within the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education have created a solution.

Opened in 1935, the Institute of Child Development provides quality early childhood education experiences for children.  Housed within the Department of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum (ILAC), as part of the Early Childhood Education program since the early 1980’s, the institute provides superior child care and unique hands-on learning for students.

Dubbed as the College’s “best kept secret”, the Institute prides itself on their ability to help children achieve autonomy, self-control, and understanding of the physical characteristics of objects in their world.  This is achieved by creating self-selected center learning experiences and projects; encouraging children to be responsible for their personal actions and behaviors; and by helping them examine the consequences of those actions.  If this description does not fill you with inspiration, a mere glance into the Institute’s building reveals a world created with children in mind.  The room houses a sand box, a child-size wardrobe complete with fancy hats, even a floor-to-ceiling tree to help the students understand the jungle—just to name a few features.

Following suit with the most current practices of the field, the teacher’s role at the Institute is to serve as a guide, a resource, and a facilitator for the child.  This means that the teacher creates a child-centered environment through developmentally appropriate activities for children that foster learning through self-selected play.  It has been proven time and time again that children learn best through doing.  This process of discovery enables them to build theories about how their world operates.  The teacher acts as a guide when she questions the child, and encourages him or her to think more deeply about a problem or situation.  The teacher is a resource for the children, offering suggestions as needed, yet encouraging them to develop ways to solve problems on their own.

The Institute bases all practices on the belief that peer interactions are critical in helping children develop socially, creatively, physically, emotionally, and cognitively.  It is through peer interactions that children construct cognitive and social knowledge, learn to be accepting of others, and formulate an appreciation of individual and cultural differences.

Children of all backgrounds and abilities are welcome at this marvelous school, as evidenced by the diverse population of children and families currently in attendance.  The teachers work tirelessly among themselves and with other professionals to ensure an appropriate environment to meet each individual child’s needs.

In addition to providing the best, most developmentally appropriate care and education for children,the Institutealso facilitates parent and student education.   Parent education and participationare encouraged through individual parent-teacher meetings as well as an observation booth.  This one-way vision mirror separates the observer from the classroom and provides the observer the opportunity to view the child without being seen.   Junior, senior, and masters level students majoring in early childhood education are able to receive practical, real life experience with the children.  Faculty and graduate students are able to conduct research related to the development and enhancement of young children’s growth.

To ensure consistency between students, the director and instructor serve as master teachers and supervisors of the children’s programs.  By working with the adult students, and conferring with parents at regular intervals, these two individuals make sure that the Institute remains a nationally accredited early childhood program and an Oklahoma 3 Star Program–the highest rating available. These teachers hold masters degrees in early childhood education.

With such an obviously superior education available at comparable rates, it is hard to believe that the Institute is not overflowing with students.  Pamela Giberti, executive director, simply smiles with confidence that the Institute will only continue to grow.

Interested in supporting this fabulous operation?  Contact me at 325-1266 for additional information.  Are you interested in enrolling your child in this top-of-the-line program?  Call Pamela at 325-1641 to learn more.

College of Education dean to retire after 16 years

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

College of Education Dean Joan K. Smith speaks during her weekly office meeting Monday morning. (Helen Grant/The Daily)

The first woman to hold the position of Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education dean has announced she will retire this summer.

Joan K. Smith is nearing her 16th year as dean and will return to teaching and research after she officially retires June 30.

“I think there is a point where you need to bring new energy into administration and into leadership,” Smith said. “It’s been a good 16 years for me and when I looked around after the dedication of the renovation in the new wing and I thought about where everything was at this point in time and I thought…this is a really good time to turn it over.”

Smith is an educational studies professor and will continue her work after stepping down from her administrative position. She is currently teaching a graduate course on qualitative research, she said.

“Dean Smith is a strong advocate for education and has worked diligently toward improving education and standards,” Julie Comer, Smith’s secretary for the past 13 years, said. “Not only is Dean Smith a dedicated educator, but she’s a lady of character.”

Smith arrived at the university in August of 1995.

Prior to being appointed dean of the Rainbolt College, she served as a graduate school associate dean and as a faculty member at Loyola University in Chicago for 14 years, she said.

Smith sees herself as a leader who involves the faculty and students as much as she can. She takes great pride in the quality of the students and faculty in the Rainbolt College, she said.

“I think that over the 16 years the caliber of our student body has increased tremendously and they are dedicated for what they’re doing and those who are going into teaching will make excellent teachers,” Smith said.

Smith has made her students’ experiences at OU as meaningful as they can be, university spokesman Chris Shilling said.

“She has been fantastic,” Shilling said. “Any time a student has expressed concerns with classes or courses I have been able to go to her and talk about the issues and she has gone above and beyond to help.”

Smith has overseen an increase in scholarship money available from the Rainbolt College in her time as dean. When Smith took her post, the college had under $20,000 of scholarship money available and now has over $100,000 available, she said.

“I think that will become more and more important because the costs of higher education don’t go down and it will be important to be able to continue to support students through scholarships,” Smith said.

Smith has participated in many national societies and professional associations, she said.

She served as Board of Examiners chair for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and is a past president of both the state’s Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions, according to the Rainbolt College website.

Smith has been a great public servant to the university, Shilling said.

Smith said her successor will be chosen by OU President David Boren. An interim dean will likely be put in place for about a year and a national search will take place, Smith said.


CONTACT:  OU Public Affairs, 325-1701

NORMAN – In recognition of her commitment to education, Joan K. Smith, dean of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, was today awarded a Regents’ Professorship by the OU Board of Regents. Smith has announced her intention to return to teaching and research as she nears 16 years of service as dean, which she will conclude on June 30. Under her leadership, the college has consistently been ranked in the top tier of graduate schools of education by U.S. News and World Report.

“Joan Smith has not only helped create a stronger program for the Rainbolt College, she has helped to elevate standards and improve education for students throughout the state and region,” said OU President David L. Boren.

To qualify for a Regents’ Professorship, faculty members must render outstanding service to the academic community or to an academic or professional discipline through extraordinary achievement in academic administration or professional service. In recognition of the high level of achievement required to be selected as the recipient of one of these awards, individuals receive a one-time cash award of $7,000 and a permanent salary increase of 7 percent or $7,000 minimum starting in the subsequent fiscal year.

An educator for more than 30 years, Smith is nationally noted as a scholar in the area of educational foundations.  She has authored four books and more than 65 articles and chapters in books on a broad range of topics, including educational history, women’s history and biography, historical perspectives on the education of minorities, and the development of teacher education. Smith has edited two foundation journals and held offices in national societies and professional associations devoted to the foundations of education.

She also has served as chair and member of the Board of Examiners for the National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education <>  and on the board of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. She is the past president of the state’s Association of Colleges for Teacher Education  <> and past president of the National Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions <>  affiliated with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

Gregg Garn Named Interim Dean of OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education



CONTACT:  OU Public Affairs, 325-1701

NORMAN – Gregg A. Garn, a teacher and researcher who has worked to improve the quality of education in the state, has been selected to serve as interim dean of the University of Oklahoma Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, effective July 1, pending approval of the OU Board of Regents. Joan Smith, who has served as dean of the college for almost 16 years, will step down as dean June 30 to return to teaching and research.

“Gregg Garn has a proven track record as an educator and as a leader,” said OU President David L. Boren. “We are very fortunate that he has agreed to serve as interim dean for the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.  His appointment assures that the forward momentum in the college will proceed without interruption.”

Nancy Mergler, Norman campus senior vice president and provost, said, “I very much look forward to working with Dr. Garn in his new role as interim dean for the college. I and the other Norman campus deans have gotten to know him well during the time he has served as associate dean.

“I also am very pleased that Tom Landers, dean of the College of Engineering, has agreed to chair the search committee for seeking the permanent dean for the college. This signals the importance that the University of Oklahoma places on our mission to the state in growing excellence in all levels of education, from the pre-school level to graduate and professional degree programs.”

Garn, who also was appointed as interim head of the Division of Teacher Education and interim director of education personnel, currently serves as director of the K20 Center for Educational and Community Partnerships and associate dean for school and community partnerships in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education. He holds the Linda Clarke Anderson Presidential Professorship and serves as a professor of educational leadership and policy studies. He also has served as the program coordinator of the Educational Administration Curriculum and Supervision.

Garn is active in several national organizations, including the Politics of Education Association, the University Council for Educational Administration and the American Educational Research Association. He has worked with state-level policymakers and professional associations to improve the quality of education in Oklahoma.  Garn’s research focuses on school choice, policy development and implementation, and the politics of education, and he has been published in such scholarly journals as Educational Administration Quarterly, Education and Urban Society, Education Policy Analysis Archives and Educational Leadership.

Garn earned his bachelor’s degree in history and education from the University of Northern Iowa and his master’s and doctoral degrees, in social and philosophical foundations of education and educational leadership and policy studies, respectively, from Arizona State University.


Four Sooner families have made possible new facilities to match the mission of an often-overlooked campus college.

The lobby of Collings Hall was standing-room only December 6, 2010, packed with students, faculty, dignitaries and University supporters spilling down the main hallway. A bright cold day, guests arrived bundled in coats, only to look for places to put them when they hit the warmth of the crowded lobby. But the warmth was more than just temperature. It came from the excitement ofshared memories and a family’s pride in honoring a strong woman who believed to her core that educating children was one of the world’s most important jobs.

The occasion was the dedication of the newly renovated and expanded home of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education (JRCOE), now a 54,000-square-foot instructional facility dedicated to nurturing and growing Oklahoma’s next generation of educators. In the first college in the history of the University of Oklahoma to be named for a woman, future teachers and administrators are being trained to face a future that looks very different from the one that Rainbolt, an OU education alumna, first met at Stand Watie Elementary School in 1950s Oklahoma City.

Unlike other colleges whose graduates may go on to lucrative professional careers, the JRCOE trains students whose future compensation will be paltry by most standards. “And yet,” observed OU President David L. Boren at the dedication, “teachers change the course of society. Beyond the family, there is no relationship more important than the connection between teacher and student.”

The $9.5 million renovation and addition to Collings Hall were made possible by gifts from H.E. “Gene” Rainbolt, his son, David Rainbolt, and daughter and OU Regent Dr. Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes, all ofOklahoma City, and Sandra and Brian O’Brien of Houston. In addition to gifts enabling bricks and mortar, classrooms were outfitted with the latest technology by support from the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation and the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, both ofTulsa.

During remarks at the dedication, Sandra O’Brien, a 1957 COE graduate, declared, “I believe this is the most important college on the OU campus.” She is particularly proud of the O’Brien Bell Tower, which features a 3,000-pound bronze school bell cast in 1934. The bell tower is an imposing gateway into this revitalized center oflearning.

The JRCOE encompasses three departments-Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum; Educational Leadership and Policy Studies; and Educational Psychology-that together offer an astonishing array of degreegranting programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. According to the JRCOE webpage, there are 83 distinct degrees or certification programs that a student can earn within the college.

“The variety is broad because the needs of students and future educators are unbelievably diverse,” observes Joan Smith, who is now in her 16th year as Dean of the College of Education. “In the past, teacher education focused on preparing teachers and curriculum content. We believed that if teachers were well prepared, they would do well in the classroom, and student performance would naturally follow. In the past 20 years, the focus of teacher training has shifted completely away from a teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered environment. As a profession and an academic discipline, we’ve come to realize there is simply no such thing as one way to learn.”

Dean Smith adds that without a doubt the biggest change in teacher education is the ongoing introduction of classroom technology-“the ultimate tool for individualized instruction.” Thanks to the gifts from the two Zarrow foundations, the college now includes math and science education centers that are well-equipped for 21st-century learning. Along with the new addition, the existing building was retrofitted with the newest technological capabilities.

“We now have a state-of-the-art facility that provides exactly what we need in terms of technology,” says Dean Smith. “We finally have space to provide a good instructional environment. Nationwide, many school districts now provide individualized instruction methods that tailor learning to meet the needs and abilities of all students. Philosophically we agreed wholeheartedly with that, but we lacked the resources and facilities to train our teachers how to provide individualized instruction. Because of these generous gifts from the Rainbolt, O’Brien and Zarrow families, we’re taking a giant leap forward in preparing our teachers for the demands of the 21st-century classroom.”

Dr. Lawrence Baines chairs the JRCOE’s Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum (ILAC) Department. He muses about how classroom access to the Internet has completely changed his teaching paradigm. “Before, I might think of a reference in class, ask students if they knew this person, and maybe none of them knew whom I was talking about. After class I would find Internet references, print them and bring them to the next class. Now I pull up the Internet right there in the classroom, project it onto the screen, and we all learn together, right there in the moment. This is a huge change.”

Baines also notes positive social changes among students promoted by the sensitive interior design created by OU’s Architectural and Engineering Services Director Rick Skaggs, his assistant Tara White and approved by President Boren. “I think it’s accurate to say our students are gushing about the new facility-they just love it! The designers intentionally created attractive common areas for students.” There are several such areas throughout the building, as well as an outdoor courtyard with tables, umbrellas and chairs. “Students are always using these areas, talking, working on their laptops.”

On a reflective note, Baines adds, “I believe the new building sets the tone for our curriculum and raises the expectations of both students and faculty. We’re proud to say that our building is now a reflection of the college’s philosophy ofvaluing a learning environment for the mind.

“In the past, our focus was curriculum, with a one-size-fits-all mindset about learning,” which, he notes, has been changed completely by the country’s growing diversity. In an urban school setting, a teacher may encounter recent immigrants with no English, children of migrant farm workers who attend school sporadically, plus students of different races and religions.

“Educating teachers today means giving them strategies and a toolkit that reaches the potential of each of those students,” he says. “Our teacher training is more intensive than ever, training teachers multiculturally, multi-lingually, and by exposing them to multi-sensory learning techniques.”

For Sacra Nicholas, assistant professor in ILAC, the biggest change is that science and math education are now taught under one roof for the first time in decades. “Before, nearly 60 percent of our classes were taught outside of Collings Hall. We’ve now been able to create one cohesive learning home for our students.”

Nicholas observes that the energy generated by the renovation and addition also has helped redefine the direction for Elementary Education. “We’re leaner and cleaner. We’ve slightly decreased the hours required for certification, enabling students to complete a bachelor’s degree in four years-before it was four and a half, with student teaching coming after graduation-but we’ve beefed up the intensity of the senior-year field training, echoing a national trend. During their first semester as seniors, education majors now spend three days a week in a school. Second semester, it’s five days a week.”

Nicholas contends that OU teachers are highly sought after because they are so well trained. “By the time they complete a bachelor’s degree, our students will have between 200 to 300 hours in field experience. This allows us to attract the best and brightest future teachers in our state and in the region.”

One newly minted JRCOE initiative is the Global Educators Program, which includes a three-semester certification in language, culture and pedagogy with a six-week, summer Spanish Immersion Experience in Puebla, Mexico. Students earn certification in Communication, Culture and Pedagogy for Hispanic Populations in Educational Settings (ESLIELL). Still under development, the JRCOE is creating a similar program for French language, culture and educational system immersion with the Academie d’Amiens/ Jules Verne University (UPJV) in Amiens, France.

In addition to its three departments and various program areas, the JRCOE includes many programs designed to enhance teacher training, often through community interaction and partnerships. The JRCOE website describes some of these programs including the K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal. This interdisciplinary consortium of schooluniversity-community partnerships emphasizes authentic learning, technology integration and cooperative networking.

The Oklahoma Writing Project seeks to improve the quality of composition instruction in elementary and secondary schools. The program, which has professionally prepared more than 500 teacher consultants, is part ofthe National Writing Project, a network of university school . programs across the nation. The Science Education Center’s mission is to remain at the forefront of research in this area, while preparing teachers and professionals for scholarly work and personal development that improves science education.

JRCOE senior and Norman native Christine Engelbrecht served as president of the student chapter of the Oklahoma Education Association in 2010-11. She is thrilled with the Collings Hall renovation and expansion. “The building is wonderful. We have places to gather and talk. We can finally hold chapter meetings in our own building, which means we get much better participation. It feels like we have a home now; we’re not roaming all over campus. For a long time, it seemed like nobody outside the college cared much about us. The renovation lets everybody know that JRCOE is very important to OU. The school bell makes a big statement of who we are and what we do here.”

Jeannine Rainbolt was a tireless, passionate advocate for advancing the cause of quality education in Oklahoma. Her family’s milestone gift means that teachers trained at OU will be well prepared for the demands ofthe 21st-century classroom. The college bearing her name is an intellectual home ofwhich both students and faculty can be proud-and in a building that inspires them all to reach higher, equipped with technology that brings all corners of the globe right into the classroom: These achievements would have delighted this woman who knew that there was no profession more vitally important than teaching. ‘!’

Susan Owen Atkinson is a freelance writer living in Norman. 

For pictures of the beautiful rennovation, visit the full story here.

Oklahoma Department of Education Renews Exchange

Partnership with Académie d’Amiens in France

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 9, 2011) — State Superintendent Janet Barresi will interact with French education officials via a live video feed tomorrow to mark the renewal of a cultural exchange projectwith the Académie d’Amiens, a regional education agency located in northern France.

On Friday, June 10 at 9 a.m. in the State Board of Education boardroom, Superintendent Barresi willhold a video conference with Amiens officials. Both parties will sign a new memorandum of understanding to renew the partnership.

Superintendent Barresi and her counterpart, the Rector of the Académie, will also exchange remarksabout the partnership. Académies are the French equivalents of state departments of education in theUnited States. The Académie d’Amiens includes three smaller divisions in the region of Picardy.

“I’m pleased to continue this important partnership,” said Barresi. “In the new knowledge economy, ourstudents must be prepared to engage with the rest of the world and to compete on the global stage. Ourpartnership with Amiens is a key part of our efforts to rethink how we deliver education.”

The partnership with the Académie d’Amiens, now in its fourth year, builds and expands ties betweenOklahoma and French educators and students. The Amiens partnership includes student exchanges,group projects between schools, video conferences and online wiki-based collaboration.

“In the global marketplace, it’s so important for students to engage with and understand differentperspectives throughout the world. Educators can talk to students about it, but it has more impact whenthey experience it directly,” said Desa Dawson, director of world languages for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

This spring, Dawson was honored by OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education in the 2011 Celebration of Education awards. Dawson has also been honored in France as a Chevalier (a Knight) ofthe Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Order of Academic Palms) an Order of Chivalry in that nation foracademics and cultural and educational figures.

More information about pairing with a school in Amiens is now available on the State Department ofEducation’s Website ( under World Languages at

Those interested in learning more can contact Desa Dawson at

or by

phone at 405-521-3035.

Damon Gardenhire
Communications Director
State Department of Education
(405) 310-9323

Ellsworth Collings: Educator, author and avid fan of the Old West

BY DERRICK HO Staff Writer email@opubco.comOklahoman    Comment on this article 0

Published: June 12, 2011

Ellsworth C. Collings was a professor at the University of Oklahoma beginning in 1922 and became the dean of the School of Education in 1926. During his tenure, enrollment of the school rose from 100 to more than 1,000 students.

Collings was born in Missouri and went to the University of Missouri for his bachelor’s and master’s in education. He later obtained his doctorate at Columbia University in New York.

“He was interested in people and a very personable man,” said Betty Geis, who lived with the Collings family when she married the professor’s grandson, Ronald “Bill” Geis.

An advocate of the project method in teaching, Collings was said to have produced some of the best books in this field. His book, “An Experiment with a Project Curriculum,” was hailed in its day as one of the most significant contributions in educational literature and the most important work on the subject of rural schooling, according to a sign erected outside Collings Hall — a building at OU named in honor of the professor in 1977.

The OU College of Education main offices still reside in Collings Hall, which was built in 1951.

Collings was also well-known in Oklahoma as the author of “The 101 Ranch,” which grew out of his intimate knowledge of ranching in the territory and state.

The professor kept a huge collection of cowboy art and artifacts. A 1963 story in The Daily Oklahoman listed part of his collection, which included the head of a longhorn steer mounted on a wall, and no less than 12 sets of longhorn horns with the largest spanning 9½ feet. He also collected bridles, saddles, branding irons and spurs from places he visited across the country.

Collings and his wife, Lessie Lee Collings, lived mostly at the Bar-C ranch just north of the Turner Falls Park entrance — the castle was just a summer home — and commuted three times a week to Norman until his retirement. He was a member of many clubs, including the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, and was listed in “Who’s Who in America.”

Collings died at age 82 on June 18, 1970, after a lengthy illness. He is buried in Norman IOOF Cemetery.



Oklahoman    Comment on this article 3

Published: June 12, 2011

DAVIS — When it comes to make-believe sword fights and saving damsels in distress, most 10-year-olds make do with self-built cardboard castles. Mickey Shackelford didn’t have to. For most of his childhood, the Davis native had a playground of creeks, waterfalls, swimming holes — and an abandoned stone castle nestled right in the heart of the Arbuckle Mountains in south-central Oklahoma.  Known as Collings Castle, the striking fort-like structure and its maze of rooms made it perfect for hide-and-seek.

“I remember someone hiding in the fireplace … a dirty place to hide,” said Shackelford, who with his younger brother used to sneak into the castle grounds. “There probably was a sign that said ‘Private Property,’ but we pretended to not see … or understand.”

Today, children and families still can be seen exploring the dark tunnel like doorways and peeking from the castle’s decrepit stone walls, much of which now is covered with graffiti. It’s hard to miss the imposing ruins as one walks along the creek from the parking area at Turner Falls Park to the famed falls itself. The gray stone walls lining the foot path are the first hints something mysterious is lurking nearby. Past a pile of crumbled stones, a staircase appears. At its end, the imposing stone walls rise up from the dense cover of trees.

“Pass the castle, then you hear the falls. It’s like there’s somebody calling out to you,” said Shackelford, now 55. “It was fascinating. It was huge. It was bigger than life then.”

It’s perhaps the same allure that continues to attract throngs of curious visitors. Yet, plans to restore the dilapidated castle constantly have been shelved due to a lack of funding.

“We had too many projects this winter. And, so we had to cut some of them, and that was just one,” said Turner Falls Park manager Tom Graham.

The park draws some 250,000 visitors each year. Funding this year went for a new slide, expanding a swimming area and other park and camp site improvements.


Once described by a local newspaper as Davis’ own “Camelot,” the castle was built in the 1930s. It became part of the estate of the late Ellsworth Collings — an author who was also dean of the University of Oklahoma‘s education department nearly 20 years.

The castle covered less than an acre and included a main house with three rooms and two living areas with fireplaces, one ornately embellished with deep rust-colored rose rocks. Within the compound were also two bunk houses and two “outhouses.” From the main building, a steep stairway of about a hundred steps led to a stable area that served as a garage in later years, according to a document at Davis City Hall. Its rooms, modest in size, had ceilings no higher than an average person. Connecting them were dark and closet-like tunnels. In the main living hall, a steep spiral stairway led to another floor of rooms, and then farther up into a claustrophobic overlook tower that carries the castle’s signature slim and narrow windows.

“There are some beautiful views looking out the windows. You can see why they built it where they did — overlooking the creek,” Shackelford said. There are few written records that explain why the Collingses built the castle. But, 80-year-old relative Betty Geis said, “Mr. and Mrs. Collings had friends … at OU that owned cabins and property next to it, and that’s why they bought in that area.” Geis moved into the Collings estate when she married the couple’s grandson, Ronald E. “Bill” Geis, in 1951. She lived in one of the nearby cabins while her husband served in the Korean War.

“My husband used to know how many stairs there were because when he was learning to walk, he was jumping up and down, and he would count them going up,” Geis chuckled as she recalled. “It was a fun place.”The Collingses often held social gatherings during summer weekends at the castle’s outdoor patio.

“Mrs. Collings was great … everybody’s grandma,” Geis said. “She would bake angel food cakes and pies, and they would have barbecue outside.”

Inside, the affable Ellsworth Collings showed off his passion for Western art and ranching displaying ornamental longhorns and a fraction of his massive collection of Western paintings. On the floor, Navajo blankets were laid out as rugs.

“I remember they had a couch that was formed by Texas longhorns,” said Geis.

Collings’ passion for ranching was not confined to the castle. He also had a larger cabin nearby that served as a “museum” where he collected artifacts such as spurs, branding irons and miniature saddles, Geis said. Today, much of his collection is displayed at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and the Woolaroc Musuem in Bartlesville.

So avid was Collings about all-things ranching, the castle was believed to be only part of a bigger dude ranch that he had in mind, park manager Graham said, but “because of the Depression and the economy in the ’30s, it never came about.”


Davis city records show Collings hired a “Mr. and Mrs. Parsons,” and their son, from Norman to help with construction of the castle — something the professor was very much involved in himself.

“Mr. Collings would bring concrete mix down on the weekends for Mr. Parsons to use during the week,” records state. Rocks used to construct the buildings were cut on each building site and hauled up and down by hand and wheel barrel.

“He built it at a time when people weren’t building a lot,” Shackelford said, and, in turn, provided income for the castle’s builders during the Depression era. The Parsons lived in a tent at Turner Falls Park during the construction, records show.

“He gave employment to those who built the castle,” Geis said. “He had a job in a college and could pay whatever small wages were at the time.”

Although expansive, architectural historians also believe the castle’s low ceilings and steep steps were signs of harder economic times then.

“The site is steep, and hauling materials uphill is labor intensive. Higher ceilings would require taller exterior walls,” said Arn Henderson, professor emeritus of architecture at OU.

No one knows why Collings built his summer house to resemble a castle. The alternating openings on the building’s parapets — known as battlements — are commonly used to fortify a structure. Since there were neither wars nor battles in the ’20s or ’30s, the battlements were probably just an ornamental feature, said Lynda Schwan, architectural historian from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

And while city documents record the building as “English-style,” Geis insists the castle had more of a Spanish flair. “Moorish almost,” she said.

“He loved Spanish architecture,” she said of her grandfather-in-law. “It’s a very definite type of architecture with the parapets on top, and the windows are narrow and long with little individual panes.”

Despite the foreign influence, construction materials came from Oklahoma soil. The stones were believed quarried from an adjacent parcel of land, according to survey documents, Schwan said.

The rose rocks used to decorate a fireplace reportedly came from near Lexington.

The castle was eventually sold by Collings’ grandson and has since been owned by several different individuals. In 1977, the City of Davis bought it, according to the “Second Book of Murray County,” published in 1988, and is now managed by Turner Falls Park officials.

Not all subsequent owners lived in the castle, though. Wayne Clemons, who worked in the park in the early ’60s, lived in the castle as a caretaker.

“My uncle was here so much of the time, that the manager suggested that maybe he could care-take the castle,” said Gary Clemons. “And, so, this became his camping spot of choice.”

Later, the elder Clemons became famous in the area for his “Buckeye” style of art painted on rocks, which he sold and often gave away to visitors from a self-made booth along the castle walls.

“He would spend the whole day painting,” said the younger Clemons, who continues to paint and sell artwork at a shop not far from the castle.


Much of the crumbling structure today is cloaked by undergrowth and shrouded in mystery — a reason it has attracted spirit-seeking paranormal groups and movie directors.

“We’ve had a few people do a couple of B-rated movies, including one four years ago, when they did some Old English fighting scenes in the castle buildings,” park manager Graham said. “But these are movies that go straight to DVD; they don’t go to the theaters or anything like that.”

In what used to be the main living area, a rotten wooden door lies on the ground in place of the Navajo rugs. The florid rose rocks that used to adorn the fireplaces are gone, too, possibly chiseled away and looted. At one of the bunk houses, part of its roof had fallen in so badly that park officials had to remove the entire roof.

When asked if she still visits the castle, Geis said there’s no reason.

“The property had not been in the family for a long time … and so there was really nothing to go back to,” said Geis, who, with her husband, moved to a ranch in Colorado in 1982.

“And it did really hurt when we saw that people had broken in and torn apart part of the fireplaces. And so you didn’t really care to go back and see it in disrepair. It was a shock,” she said.

That might change, though.

Graham hopes the castle will eventually be turned into something more than a backdrop to the falls. There are very preliminary plans to convert the castle into a museum, he says.

Likewise, Shackelford hopes the castle will eventually be restored to its grandeur and maintained for visitors to experience the magic he once did.

“It was a happy castle,” said Shackelford, who lives in the Chicago area today. “I had the greatest possible years growing up there.”

Shackelford still makes an annual pilgrimage, of sorts, to Turner Falls during Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day.

Like a ritual, he always takes a photo of the area overlooking the falls and the castle.

“I must have a million of them,” he said. “It’s very strange how it still draws me back there.”

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