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Keith Ballard: Former superintendent in multiple Oklahoma school districts dies after ALS diagnosis

Keith Ballard
Posted at 12:27 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 15:22:11-04

TULSA, Okla. — A longtime Oklahoma educator died Tuesday less than a year after his ALS diagnosis.

Keith Ballard, 72, spent time as a superintendent in Tulsa, Claremore and Oologah as well as several other roles in Oklahoma education.

Dr. Deborah Gist, Ballard's successor at Tulsa Public Schools in 2015 called him "a mentor, a dear friend, a lifelong educator, and a relentless advocate for Tulsa teachers, children, and families."

"Dr. Ballard, however, would probably tell you that his greatest legacy is the grandchildren who brought such incredible joy to his later years, and he lit up any time that he talked about Keaton, Emma, Ashton, Kizer, Allison, Olivia, and Matthijs," Gist says.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum released the following statement following Ballard's death:

“Lots of people talk about what needs to be done, but about once in a generation a leader comes along who actually does the work to make it happen. That is the kind of leader Dr. Keith Ballard was for Tulsa Public Schools. He modernized TPS as an administrator, but he also never lost his love for teaching in the classroom - something he did well into his final illness. I was grateful to call Dr. Ballard a mentor, and I mourn his passing alongside the generations of Oklahomans who have better lives because of his devotion to public service.”

Before his time at TPS, Ballard served as superintendent at Oologah Public Schools from 1986 to 1992. He'd then go on to serve as superintendent at Claremore Public Schools from 1992 to 1999.

He'd then take on the role of Executive Director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association in 2000 where he served before going becoming superintendent at TPS seven years later.

After leaving TPS, Ballard became a professor at OU-Tulsa where he taught at the College of Education.

“All of us at the Tulsa Regional Chamber are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Ballard.

During his nearly five decades in education, Dr. Ballard showed time and time again just how much he cared – for all students, for our teachers and for his colleagues across our state.

He worked tirelessly to advance student achievement and close the gaps resulting from income and other inequities.

He also spearheaded the Project Schoolhouse consolidation effort to provide more equitable access to curriculum and special programs such as art and music throughout Tulsa Public Schools.

With the help of our teachers, he developed an educator evaluation system that impressed the Gates Foundation and ultimately became the statewide model.

He also secured several large grants to work on data to support further improvements, and he was instrumental in three different bond funding campaigns during his tenure as TPS superintendent.

More than anything, though, Dr. Ballard was simply a great listener and a great collaborator.

He heard from many groups, he treated everyone with respect, and he took all input seriously.

“For all he did as both an educator and an Oklahoman, we at the Chamber presented him with our Lifetime Achievement Award this past January.

“No one has ever deserved that honor more.

“Our condolences go out to all of his family and friends.

“He transformed countless lives, and he will be missed by all who knew him.”
Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber
"In tribute to Dr. Keith Ballard, there is so much to say. He was simply an incredible human being. So generous and a mentor like no other. He was loved by so many because he was so giving of himself and his talent.

Hundreds of thousands of students benefited from his expertise and caring spirit. Ballard was not afraid of hard decisions as long as it was right for students.

We were both alumni of Fort Hays State University. This photo from FHSU Homecoming 2019 is one of my favorites.

Thank you, Dr. Ballard, for your incredible service to our future."
Leigh Goodson, Ph.D., Tulsa Community College President and CEO

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