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From dentist to schools chief

Dr. Janet Barresi elected to Oklahoma's highest education post

From dentist to schools chief
Dr. Barresi: "I'm one of those people that when I'm interested in doing something, I want to do it extremely well."

Oklahoma City—A typical day for Dr. Janet Barresi would be like one any working mom would have.

She'd work in her Oklahoma City dental practice until around 4 p.m. then switch to mom mode, driving her twin sons to soccer practice, helping them with their homework and cooking dinner. But once the kids were in bed, Dr. Barresi would switch into a third mode: education reform advocate.

Dr. Barresi would spend her late evenings studying education research and policy. Unsatisfied with the public schools in her area, she tried to find better middle school options for her sons. Her passion led her to open Independence Charter Middle School and later Harding Charter Preparatory High School.

It also led her to run as a Republican for Oklahoma’s state superintendent post, which she was elected to earlier this month.

"I'm one of those people that when I'm interested in doing something, I want to do it extremely well," Dr. Barresi said. "Excellence is always the focus."

It was about a 15-year transition for Dr. Barresi to completely make the switch from a full-time practicing dentist to a full-time education reformer. Dr. Barresi sold her practice about two years ago to completely focus on her campaign, but she plans to maintain her license and CE hours.

She's a past president of the Oklahoma Association of Women Dentists and received the Thomas Jefferson Citizenship Award from the Oklahoma Dental Association. Dr. Barresi has a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in speech and language disorders, which she used to work in public schools as a speech pathologist.

Dr. Barresi graduated from the University of Oklahoma dental school in 1984. She later attended The Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, Fla., where she is still a board member. Her time there focused on working on complex restorative cases, seeing only two to three patients each day but spending a lot of time on each case. An initial evaluation could take 90 minutes to two hours.

Her experience there has shaped the way she attacks education reform.

"The philosophy of the institute is patient-based, relationship-based. You focus on the individual patient and their needs. It teaches you to be flexible and evaluate patients in a comprehensive way. It taught me that the prescribed type of treatment for every patient isn't what each individual patient needs. That taught me to look at students and see them as individuals with different learning styles," Dr. Barresi said.

Being a dentist also taught Dr. Barresi a lot about customer service, which she believes is lacking in education. It's important to listen to parents, teachers and superintendents, hear their concerns and work with them collaboratively, she said.

"I learned a lot of lessons from dentistry," Dr. Barresi said. "I miss it, but I'm very excited about having this opportunity."