Tuesday April 25, 2023

Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation announces recipients of the 2023 Sam and Charolet Shirley Outstanding Principal Award

Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation announces recipients of the 

2023 Sam and Charolet Shirley Outstanding Principal Award

Left: John White, Mark Twain Elementary;  Right: Chris Gardner, John Marshall Enterprise Middle School 


OKLAHOMA CITY (April 24, 2023) – The Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation today announced two OKCPS principals as the recipients of the Sam and Charolet Shirley Outstanding Principal Award for the 2022-23 school year: Mark Twain Elementary’s John White and John Marshall Enterprise Middle School’s Chris Gardner. They will be honored on May 4 during the annual Stars of Education Awards event at the OKCPS Clara Luper Center for Educational Services.

This award recognizes the service and commitment honorees dedicate to their schools, fellow educators and, most importantly, to their students. Criteria is based on leadership in academics, internally with teachers and staff and the ability to develop and sustain community partnerships.

“Leadership is critical for creating a culture of excellence in our schools,” said Mary Mélon-Tully, Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation president and CEO. “John and Chris lead by example while fostering trust and building strong relationships with their students, staff, families and the community. Both are shining stars in our school district and truly make a difference for our students in the classroom and beyond.”

The Outstanding Principal Award was established in 2018 by the Shirleys’ daughter, Natalie Shirley, who has spent decades in service to Oklahoma education as a university president and Oklahoma Secretary of Education and Workforce. She currently serves as chair of the OU Board of Regents and recently served as the president and CEO of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

“A quality education significantly impacts the next generation’s future, and principals are the driving force behind it all,” said Natalie Shirley. “Principals have the difficult task of inspiring and engaging students, teachers and the community as a whole. This year’s recipients took the challenge in stride and produced outstanding transformations in their schools.”

As OKCPS principals, John and Chris expertly leveraged innovation and relationships to drive student achievement, teacher engagement and community partnerships.

John White is the principal at Mark Twain Elementary, where he helped to significantly decrease chronic student absenteeism and raise staff retention by 40%. According to his staff, John goes above and beyond for his school, readily celebrating successes and supporting challenges when they arise. Mark Twain students are also leading the way in the classroom, taking home first place in the 2022 National Cal Ripken STEM Challenge and being named “Best in Show” for the 2022 Oklahoma State Fair “Flight of the Monarch” Collaborative Art Project. With nearly 19 years at Oklahoma City Public Schools and three as a principal, John’s efforts to create meaningful connections with his students, families, staff and community partners have led to deeper relationships that are translating to increased academic success for the 285 students who attend Mark Twain Elementary.

With more than 26 years in the district, Chris Gardner has served as principal at John Marshall Enterprise Middle School since 2022 where he leads what has been deemed a “remarkable metamorphosis”. After first serving as the assistant principal at JMEMS, Gardner has continued the work that began four years ago, and today, a school that was once facing significant behavioral and safety issues now exhibits an increasingly positive culture and academic environment based upon common purposes and goals. His efforts contributed to a 53% reduction of chronic student absenteeism and the highest teacher attendance rate of all OKCPS middle schools. John Marshall’s 619 students also experienced significant academic growth in math and reading, ranking in the top 10 in the ReadOKC Reading Challenge. According to his nomination letter, Chris’ energy and passion are contagious, and his uncompromising dedication brings out the best in his staff and students.

“OKCPS principals lead the way in creating a welcoming and collaborative culture for their schools while also advancing the strategic direction of our district,” said OKCPS Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel. “The commitment they bring to educating our kids each and every day is truly remarkable. We are so proud of Principals John White and Chris Gardner and share our deepest congratulations for this well-deserved recognition.”

Both principals will be honored at the Stars of Education Awards at 4:30 p.m. on May 4 at the Clara Luper Center for Educational Services, with a welcome celebration kicking off at 4 p.m.

For more information about the Sam and Charolet Shirley Outstanding Principal Award, please visit www.okckids.com/stars-of-education-teacher-of-the-year/.



Created in 1984, the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a mission to advance excellence, advocate for equity and build strong community support for lasting success in Oklahoma City Public Schools. The Foundation works closely with the district and business community to align strategies and priorities for sustained performance improvement. Please visit us online at www.okckids.com for more information on our focus areas and volunteer and giving opportunities.


Media Contact

Beth Harrison | Gooden Group | 405-625-5258 | bharrison@goodengroup.com

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