Armed with an undergraduate degree in Education and a master’s degree in Speech and Language Disorders, Janet Barresi worked in both the Harrah and Norman public school systems as a speech pathologist. While in Harrah, Janet went above and beyond the normal call of duty to run a special summer clinic for severely handicapped children in need of remediation for speech and language problems. After her work in public schools, Janet joined the Department of Otolaryngology at the O.U. Health Sciences Center where she served patients at both Children’s Hospital and University Hospital. Janet also lectured medical students on early childhood development and speech and language development.
In 1984, Janet became Dr. Barresi when she earned her DDS degree and became a dentist — not just any dentist, but a dentist that was very active in the community. Barresi has been a member of numerous professional organizations and has served as the Past President of the Oklahoma Association of Women Dentists. In fact, Dr. Barresi has been so well-respected in the dental community that she recently received the Thomas Jefferson Citizenship Award, an honor bestowed only on those dentists who have distinguished themselves through community service. After 24 years, Janet retired as a dentist and business owner to concentrate solely on education issues.
It was actually her own family that renewed Barresi’s passion for education. In 1996, with her twin sons facing middle-school, Janet became convinced that our schools could do better. Instead of just complaining, Janet took action. Becoming a leader of dozens of like-minded parents, Janet established Oklahoma’s first charter school in the Oklahoma City public school district, Independence Charter Middle School, after passage of Oklahoma’s landmark charter school bill.
And, the school has been a resounding success. Now in its 11th year, Independence serves 350 students in sixth through eight grades and has a waiting list each year for acceptance.
In fact, Independence was so successful, that just a few years later, Janet was asked to start Harding Charter Preparatory High School, where she served as board President. Focused on serving 400 inner-city high school students, Harding offers the largely poverty level and diverse student population an rigorous college preparatory curriculum. This year Harding has seen its first National Merit Finalist, another student being named to the Academic All-State team and more than a million dollars in college scholarships to such prestigious universities as Brown and Carnegie Mellon.
Not satisfied with improving the education of just her own children and those in her community, Janet has been very active in changing the course of public education for all children in the state, serving on the Governor’s Achieving Classroom Excellence as as chairwoman of the ACE II Task Force, Speaker Chris Benge’s Teacher Performance Pay Initiative and on the Education Funding Reform Task Force.
This year, Harding skyrocketed from 193rd to 68th in Newsweek’s ranking of the best high schools in the country. In its sixth year of operation, Harding ranks 193 out of the top 1,500 schools in the nation. While charter schools are not for everyone, the need for all schools to provide an environment for excellence is critical.