By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
TPS TEAM: Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, left, with H.J. Green at a recent TPS reception. One of Ballard’s first moves upon accepting the TPS position was to hire Green as his Deputy Superintendent for Operations and High School Reform.
GTR Newspapers photo
It’s been almost 50 years since H.J. Green entered the field of education.
Integration was in its infancy.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.
And H.J. Green was in Tulsa.
It was 1959.
A half-century later, the landscape has changed in many ways.
Integration has moved a nation forward.
Eisenhower has become a face in the history books.
But H.J. Green still is in Tulsa. Still is in education.
Although he has moved across the nation in the last 50 years, H.J. Green returned to Tulsa this summer, to familiar roots, to continue a career that has been crafted and nurtured through years of honesty and compassion and knowledge.
His career path has taken him from football coach to high school administration, from executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association to college instructor, and beyond.
At the age of 72 this summer, Green joined the staff of new Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard in the role of Deputy Superintendent for Operations and High School Reform.
In announcing Green as one of his first hires, Ballard said: “He’s a national expert on high school reform, and he is so well-known in Tulsa and so trusted in Tulsa. It made him a perfect fit for this.”
It was in Tulsa, in 1959, that Green, reared on a wheat farm near Wakita, took his first steps as an educator.
After graduation from Oklahoma State University, Green signed on as a science teacher, assistant football coach and head track coach at Edison High School.
Over the next decade, he coached at Hale, Memorial and East Central in Tulsa – around a misguided two-year hiatus in the insurance field – before becoming an assistant principal at Will Rogers High School.
That led to a principalship at Tulsa Hale and in 1973, he landed at Booker T. Washington.
Green became the first white principal of the newly desegregated magnet school, a position that defined his career to that point.
His work at Washington carried Green into district-level administration, working on a Tulsa Public Schools task force that focused on high school and feeder school reform before moving on to the Professional Development Department
In 1987, he moved into the role of executive director of the OSSAA, an office he held for over three years.
“H.J. is one of the most respected administrators in the state,” current OSSAA Executive Director Danny Rennels says.
“He was very instrumental in adding two activities to our association – Academic Bowl and cheerleading. Both have been very successful programs.
“He was innovative. He was a real leader. Probably even ahead of his time,” Rennels says. “A number of the things that he put in place, whether it be the coaches’ advisory committees or other advisory committees that we work with, are still in place. I can’t say enough positive things about H.J.”
Green became an iconic figure in education, but long before that, he envisioned himself in medicine.
He was a pre-med major at OSU, where he played football for Cliff Speegle. He applied for, and had been accepted for, the school of veterinary medicine at OSU.
But when Speegle extended his scholarship so that he could coach the OSU freshmen football players, Green’s career choice was made.
“I always had this desire to coach,” Green says. “I had this great passion for athletics.
“There’s nothing like coaching. There’s no profession like coaching, in terms of the relationships you have with your players and students. And the memories.”
Most of Green’s professional leanings have involved athletics, either as a coach or as an administrator.
Even while teaching and coaching, Green was among the most respected athletic officials in the state.
He refereed basketball and football games for nearly three decades, from the high school level through the ranks of junior college and college and university.
Eventually though, Green chose to enter the field of administration. He left the football field and took up a position in the office.
It proved to be a winning proposition for Green and for the schools that he led.
While directing the OSSAA, an opportunity presented itself that Green could not ignore. He accepted the principal’s position at Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic High School.
The role of principal appealed to Green. Plus, he and his wife, Nancy, “just kind of wanted to do something different,” he said. “Both of us had lived all our lives in Oklahoma.”
He remained in Long Beach, eventually becoming Assistant Superintendent of Long Beach Public Schools, for 13 years.
In 2003, Green retired and returned to Tulsa.
It was not the retirement he anticipated.
Nancy Green developed cancer and died in 2005.
He was lured back to California, to San Diego, by his boss from Long Beach. Green became executive director of secondary school innovation in San Diego.
But his role, his reputation in Oklahoma had not been forgotten. Upon accepting the role of superintendent in Tulsa, Ballard called Green to return home.
Green has changed little over the years. He still speaks softly. His charismatic smile still is in place. He’s still physically fit and handsome. Students still are his first priority.
Education defines H.J. Green. He is a career educator.
He could think of no better world.
He looked around his new office in Tulsa. He smiled.
“I’m enjoying it,” he said.
“It gives your life meaning.”