Tony Goetz earns national recognition for character

·2 min read

May 25—Becoming a National School of Character was only part of a journey toward the creation of a caring community at Tony Goetz Elementary, said Principal Sarah McWilliams.

"It gave us something to strive for, to make sure those core values were imbedded in our school culture, to help us create a caring community, and to give students opportunities for service-learning projects and opportunities for learning character words for the month," McWilliams said.

The national good citizenship initiative Character.org named Tony Goetz a National School of Character earlier this month. The organization honors schools that demonstrate a "dedicated focus on character development, which has a positive effect on academic achievement, school behavior and school climate."

Tony Goetz is one of 50 schools across the United States recognized this year for character development. It is one of four schools within the Muskogee Public School District identified during the past few years as National Schools of Character.

Early Childhood Center and Sadler Arts Academy, each earned the honor twice. Muskogee High School and Whittier Elementary also have earned the honor. Hilldale Middle School was named a National School of Character in 2014.

McWilliams said earning National School status is a huge honor. The school was named State School of Character in January. Achieving National School status included online interviews with a parent, a student, a staff representative and administrators, McWilliams said.

"The heart of the interview was the district's core values of 'Every heart, every mind, every day, the Muskogee way,' and the guiding light for Tony Goetz, and how we aligned those core values into the central beliefs of Self Control, Trustworthiness, Respect, Understanding and Thankfulness," she said. "We have encompassed that in our school touchstone, which is the Rougher STRUT."

Service learning projects included collecting canned food for Eastern Heights Baptist Church food pantry, which is located across Haskell Boulevard from the school.

"This year we collected over 1,000 food items for the pantry," McWilliams said.

Students also collected stuffed animals and blankets for Kids' Space, she said.

Character.org state coordinator Madison Tomlinson, a former MPS administrator, said the honor caps a long process.

"Parents, staff and students have made that intentional at Tony Goetz for at least the last three years," Tomlinson said. "They've had a vision at Tony Goetz for the past few years, but they were slowed by COVID-19."

Tomlinson said such efforts could affect the way students behave even after the plaudits end.

"A lot depends on leadership, of course," Tomlinson said, citing a change of focus that can shift when there are leadership changes. "When leadership of the school maintains the focus on keeping and improving that culture of character in the school, it promotes a lasting impact on the school."

Tomlinson said Sadler became "the first school in Oklahoma to become a two-time school of character" because it maintained that focus.