On Saturday, March 1st, Adam & Kizzie graced the stage of Classen School of Advanced Studies for a concert performance, with proceeds to benefit the school’s Theatre Tech department. This was their opportunity to give back to the educational institution that had given them so much – an education, a platform to hone their talents, and, most importantly, the opportunity to initially meet one another and become best friends as youngsters. Long before love, marriage and musical collaboration entered the equation for the two, Adam & Kizzie were both Classen students, brought together by the fact that they both showed early signs of giftedness and were privileged to attend the prestigious public magnet school with an emphasis on arts education.
On this night, the parents of Adam & Kizzie were in attendance, beaming with pride. Kizzie’s mother, Trena Brown, a long-time Spanish instructor at Classen, even provided background vocals for the duo on stage. Adam’s mother, Jackie Ledbetter, also sat in the crowd, the picture of royalty seated next to his father, Dr. Spencer Ledbetter, pastor of Cross of Calvary Church in Oklahoma City. But the show of family support in the auditorium did not end there, nor does the list of those instrumental in the destiny of the duo.
Sitting quietly front and center the audience, clothed in unassuming elegance, was a key cog of the EEDO wheel – Kizzie’s maternal grandmother, Dr. Betty Mason. If any human being can claim responsibility for setting in motion the course of events that resulted in the union of this pair of legends in the making, make no mistake about it, that person would be Dr. Betty Mason. Had it not been for the leadership of Dr. Mason, the Classen School of Advanced Studies would likely not even have existed. If that had been the case, there would be no Adam & Kizzie today.
Dr. Betty G. Hopkins Mason graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, May, 1945. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bishop College in Marshall, Texas; a Masters in Supervision and Administration from The University of California at Hayward and a Doctorate of Education from The University of Oklahoma at Norman, Oklahoma. She distinguished herself as having been the first woman and first African American to be appointed assistant superintendent and superintendent in Oklahoma City. She was also the first woman superintendent in Gary, Indiana. Throughout her 46 year career, she served as an educator in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, California, Indiana and Oklahoma. It was here in Oklahoma that she perhaps had her greatest impact.
Classen Junior High School opened in 1919, immediately following the close of World War I, making it the oldest high school building in the city. The land was part of an area being developed by early Oklahoma City real estate developer, Anton H. Classen, after whom the school was named. In 1925, Classen opened its doors to high school students as well, and changed its name to Classen High School. Due to declining enrollment, Classen High School closed in 1985 and the building became a 5th-year center. In 1994, under the watch of Dr. Mason, then Superintendent of the Oklahoma City Public Schools, the Classen School of Advanced Studies opened with an enrollment size of 647, covering grades 6-10.
Since then, the school has served as a training ground for promising students, cultivating their budding gifts and giving them a creative outlet that is not commonly found in traditional public schools. Classen is known as one of the state’s premier high schools in academics, and has been ranked among the top 100 public high schools in America by the Challenge Index, as measured by the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2007 divided by the number of graduating seniors. The index is published annually in the Washington Post and Newsweek. The school was ranked number 14 in 2009.
Twenty years after Dr. Mason insisted upon the opening of Classen SAS, her now fully grown granddaughter, one of the school’s prized alumni success stories, stood on stage and sang her heart out. She had taken her Classen education and toured all over the world, including Japan and India, and had come back home to Oklahoma a strong young woman clearly cut from her mother’s and grandmother’s cloth. Behind her at stage right stood members of the current edition of the Classen Comets Marching Band, playing skillfully and confidently, a testament of the schools excellence in arts education. Accompanying her on piano and vocals was her husband and fellow world traveler, another Classen success story. He had once been a young, promising, gifted student whose boundless energy and unharnessed, misunderstood talent would have likely earned him the label of troublemaker and miscreant at a traditional learning institution.
Thankfully, there was Classen.