Although Lonetta Sprague grew up in Nowata, Oklahoma, she spent the majority of her life working in Sand Springs as a Sandite. Lonetta is the Secretary of the Sand Springs Education Foundation and has just completed her third term serving. While she may not have attended school as a student in Sand Springs, she is a Sandite through and through.
A dedicated special education teacher, administrator, assistant special education director, and later appointed the title of superintendent of the Sand Springs School District, Lonetta has a passion for the Sandite community. “I had 42 years with Sand Springs Public Schools as my employer,” says Lonetta. “And so, I feel like a Sandite, I served as a Sandite, I claim to be a Sandite and I love the Sandites.”
Spending her formative years in Nowata and attending college at Northeastern State University, Lonetta credits her childhood Sunday school teacher for opening her eyes to the world of special education. Her passion drove her to complete her Bachelors in Special Education and Masters in Reading in 1974. She was then hired at Hissom Memorial Center in Sand Springs. Hissom was one of three institutes in Oklahoma for those with mental and physical disabilities. They offered everything from schooling and activities to housing for their 1,200 residents to thrive. “I was hired there, they were always in need of special education teachers and I applied and was hired right away,” says Lonetta “They had a beautiful campus, a beautiful school that was wonderfully staffed with lots of therapists, so I bought into it.”
In 1990, the state deinstitutionalized Hissom Memorial Center and the patients went to live with their families to be integrated into society. “Legislation was passed to support these kids better at home, [giving] parents social services support,” recalls Lonetta. “It took some years, but it was the absolute right thing to do.” Because Lonetta was hired by Sand Springs Public Schools, after 16 years of teaching at Hissom, she was then moved to Charles Page High School as a special education teacher. “You can imagine what was needed to get the school district prepared for that kind of an influx of a population of kids with Special Ed needs,” says Lonetta. An instrumental part of the transition, a year later in 1993 Lonetta was sent to the administration office to be the Assistant Special Education Director. “Never in my life did I aspire to be an administrator.” says Lonetta. Everyone told Lonetta to “go get another Master’s degree, another vocation, in Public School Administration” and she has never regretted it. She finished out her last few years in Sand Springs in special education leadership at the central offices as the Superintendent for the district.
During her time as a teacher, Lonetta searched for a place for her students to go to get off campus from Hissom to discover overnight camping and recreational activities. The director of the camp asked her and another individual to be directors of a new program he was putting together for overnight camping. The camp was originally called Central Christian Camp and is now named Central Oklahoma Camp and Conference Center. Lonetta says, “It’s the most amazing place. We’ve taken youth with disabilities and adults with disabilities surfing, snow-skiing… but most importantly, the Central Oklahoma Camp hosts week-long events for these individuals all summer long.” Lonetta has been a part of this camp for nearly 32 years as a director. She is very active with the students who come each summer.
There were several people involved in Lonetta’s life that were instrumental to her career path. The first is Ursula Kessner, the teacher she taught under during her first year at Hissom. “I learned so much under Ursula Kessner. We hit it off and I fell in love and I was never so blessed to be hired at the Hissom Memorial Center.” Others that Lonetta raved about include Lee Rand Smith, her first principal and later district special education director; Jim Johnson, a special education director; Steve Edwards, the assistant principal at Hissom; George Paden, superintendent; Lloyd Snow, superintendent; Larry Elliott, assistant superintendent; and Sherry Durkee, a special education colleague and the current superintendent. “These are people that I truly admire,” says Lonetta. “They have always supported and encouraged me and [continue] to this day.”
As a token of advice Lonetta shares: “Stay right where you are, go to your public school. Get involved, it will serve you well in so many ways. You will be encouraged by the most amazing teachers. Sand Springs pushes so hard to make sure our students have a variety of things. Go to your school district and see how happy you will be, you will make friends!”
Because of her specialty in special education, when asked to give advice for those interested in special education Lonetta answered, “The state has no problems getting people to major in special education…. people know in their hearts.” She urges people to find someone with a disability and get to know them. “The people who do that get hooked! They just get hooked on the discovery of how amazing these individuals are… To be a specialist to learn the ins and outs of the cognitive issues involved in special education and teaching is a notch above, it’s just fun! Every special education teacher’s goal in life is to make sure their students [are] with regular kids…and that takes all of us!” To kick start your career she encourages you to reach out to the Director of Special Education in Sand Springs, Sherry Durkee.
Lastly, Lonetta shares with us about her life in retirement with her husband Robert Sprague. High school sweethearts married 47 years ago, they now get to enjoy a new chapter of life together. “Oh, I have the best life! Retirement is spectacular because you get to just literally get to do whatever you want to do! I worked so hard when I worked and I was wiped out when I finished,” says Lonetta. Six years into retirement she is still reminded of her love of the city of Sand Springs. She states, “…When I drive up [to pick up my granddaughter,] …I see familiar faces, friends that are out managing the car lines. It’s just such a thrill to still know people in all the school buildings.” Lonetta shared her love for all of her grandchildren and said that she willingly gives the majority of her time to them. With her husband she loves to go hiking and boating on lake Keystone and on adventures in their RV.
No one can doubt that Lonetta is a Sandite through and through. Lonetta, thank you for your service to our school system and the love you shared with our children during your 42 years working at Sand Springs Public Schools. We pray you get to continue enjoying retirement while using your talents and skills to serve your community!