"I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing"

"I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing"

Chris McAdoo

For a half-hour each weekday morning, a father drives his daughter to school.

The father listens to sports radio. The daughter often sleeps.

“Sometimes we’ll talk about things,” the daughter said.

“No, it’s a silent ride,” the father said, laughing. “Even if she’s awake, those earbuds are in and she’s not talking to me.”

Words aren’t needed, though, to illustrate the profound meaning of this family commute across Oklahoma City to Santa Fe South Pathways Middle College. Both Chris McAdoo, founding principal at Pathways, and Branigyn McAdoo, a junior student at the school, understand that these moments won’t last forever.

“It gives me an opportunity to be around him more and see the different sides of him before we get to school and he becomes my principal again,” Branigyn said. “It’s always been one of the many ways he shows he cares about me and my sisters.

“I don’t even have to set an alarm clock. He wakes me up every morning and off we go.”

Branigyn is the youngest of Chris McAdoo’s four daughters and the only one left in high school. She is Student Council President, plays on the tennis team, and is looking into potential careers in cinematography, photography, and forensic science.

Chris McAdoo and family
From left, Erin, Chris, and their four daughters Ashtyn, Jaidyn, Madisyn, and Branigyn.

The reality of time passing especially hit home for McAdoo when his second-youngest daughter, Madisyn, graduated from Pathways in 2023 after also being Student Council President. She is studying to become a dentist. Oldest daughter, Jaidyn, is a nurse, and second-oldest daughter, Ashtyn, is in medical school to become a doctor.

“One of the unfortunate things about being a principal, because of how busy I am, is that there are certain events you miss over the years,” McAdoo said. “But they are all doing so great and are well on their way in life. I’m so proud of all of my daughters. I love being a ‘girl dad.’”

McAdoo said it doesn’t seem that long ago when his home was filled with the constant energy of four sisters and their many interests and activities.

“Daddy-daughter dates were my favorite,” McAdoo said. “I don’t get to have them as much now but we used to have them all the time when they were little.”

Which is why he doesn’t mind if Branigyn snoozes during their peaceful morning drives. All that matters is that they’re together and heading in the same direction.

A family of lifelong learners

When Chris McAdoo opened Santa Fe South Pathways Middle College as a charter school in 2014, he was a founding principal with a six-person staff and 75 students.

Today, McAdoo leads a tight-knit staff of about 25 educators with nearly 350 students, and he’s gone back to his roots as a part-time math teacher to help fill a need. McAdoo and his wife, Erin, were both math teachers early in their careers and they actually met when Erin replaced Chris as a math teacher.

Chris McAdoo

“Math comes easy to us because of our parents,” Branigyn said.

Branigyn is giving back that knowledge as a math tutor to freshmen. The junior sounds like the daughter of two educators when speaking about helping her younger peers.

“It’s fun for me to help them learn, especially if they didn’t understand how their teacher explained it,” Branigyn said. “If I’m able to explain it in a different way, it helps them, and that’s so satisfying to watch them grow.”

Principal McAdoo finds great satisfaction each day in watching his students help push each other in their unique setting on the campus of Oklahoma City Community College. McAdoo said the school’s location has helped Pathways students become motivated to obtain college associate degrees along with their high school diplomas. In all, more than 200 students have earned their associate degree since the school began, including 36 of the 50 graduating seniors in 2023.

Chris McAdoo

This year, McAdoo can relate to the pursuit of an additional degree. Along with teaching math and coaching the school’s golf team, McAdoo makes time during the week to drive 70 miles to his beloved Oklahoma State University to earn his PhD.

McAdoo said the doctorate will continue his goal of being a lifelong learner. But he joked that it will also give him bragging rights over his daughter, Ashtyn, who is in medical school at Vanderbilt University.

“My daughter cannot be called Dr. McAdoo before me,” he said. “The race is on.”


Dr. Cathy Klasek has too many favorite “McAdoo-isms” to highlight just one. The repeated sayings by Principal Chris McAdoo have become so well-known that his staff created a game around them.

Dr. Cathy Klasek and Principal Chris McAdoo
Dr. Cathy Klasek, left, with McAdoo.

“We played ‘McAdoo-ism Bingo’ at a day-long professional development staff session,” said Klasek, an English teacher and department head. “The winner got a gift card. At first he was just looking at us going, ‘What are you doing?’ And then he intentionally tried not to say a ‘McAdoo-ism,’ but that’s not possible for him.”

The one that most people bring up: “Do what you gotta do, to get done what you need to get done, so you can do what you want to do.”

“That one seems to connect with everybody,” McAdoo said. “I’ll be with a great kid who is not putting in the effort for whatever reason and tell him, ‘I know you want to be at home playing video games right now. So let’s just get this done and then you can do that.’ And then he’ll bust out the work.”

McAdoo has used the mantra himself to help him overcome challenges that he’s not shy about sharing with his students. He’s dyslexic and didn’t find out until after he graduated high school. The learning disorder has made reading difficult his whole life, but he’s challenged himself to become an avid reader and is even in a reading competition this year with Klasek and her English students.

Chris McAdoo

“I’m a very visual person and can take little snapshots with my eyes,” he said.

He’s been taking a lot of mental snapshots lately. His daughters have reminded him that kids are only kids for so long, and he wants to make sure each student at Pathways is given all of the tools and resources they need to set themselves up for success in whatever path they choose in life.

"I’m here for a reason"

There’s also something more personal that gave McAdoo the starkest reminder of how precious life is.

In 2013, McAdoo was diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer after what he thought would be a routine tonsillectomy during the Thanksgiving holiday. He rattles off the details that followed like a school leader reviewing progress reports: “Four-centimeter tumor in my tonsil. Thirty-four rounds of radiation. Two rounds of horrible chemo. Third-degree burns. Lost all my taste buds. Lost all the hair on my face. Had to eat through a stomach tube for three months…”

McAdoo then pauses and laughs at a memory from that time.

“Had a student come into my office and he’s complaining about how hard life is,” McAdoo said. “Then I hold up my stomach tube and pour food into it to survive. He immediately goes, ‘Wow, okay, I think I’m being a little whiny and I can suck it up.’”

McAdoo could share hundreds of other anecdotes throughout a career he is so thankful to have. But as much as he loves reflecting on the past or discovering new ways to educate the whole students of the future, the cancer survivor most enjoys living in the moment.

“I’m here for a reason,” McAdoo said. “I believe that wholeheartedly. When my feet hit the floor each morning, even with my tired old back, I’m gone. I’m waking up Branigyn and we’re running out the door. Because I’m here doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Chris McAdoo

Chris McAdoo is one of two recipients of the 2024 Gradient Learning School Leader of the Year Award. Learn more about the award.