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Press Release

Release Date: November 18, 2021
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Scott Fortner uses lifetime of education experience to help create Chickasaw Nation career training opportunities

Chickasaw citizens who are at least 15 years old can receive driving training through the Chickasaw Employment Access Driver's Education Training Program.

Through training and coursework, including 10 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction, program participants obtain their learner’s permit and eventually a driver’s license.

After students finish their coursework/training and pass a test, the Chickasaw Employment Access Driver's Education Training Program provides a certificate of completion. Participants are then eligible to obtain their learner’s permit from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (OKDPS).

With both the program’s certificate of completion and a learner’s permit in hand, participants can then apply for driver examinations with the Chickasaw Nation in pursuit of their driver’s license.

The driver examination is available to all Chickasaw citizens who meet the application requirements. Driver examinations take place in Ada using the program’s vehicles. The online application to request a driver examination is located on the Chickasaw Employment Access webpage at Chickasaw.net/CEA.

Fulfilling the mission with innovation

Many programs and services offered by the Chickasaw Nation change lives. Employment programs like Toksali SMART enhance the lives of Chickasaw citizens in a tangible way by offering job skills and a paycheck.

On the surface, a youth employment program may seem like a simple job opportunity, but like many Chickasaw Nation services, innovation and engagement allow programs to offer services in unique ways, connecting resources that may seem unrelated.

With the new driver’s education training program, the Toksali SMART youth employment training program identified a need and worked to create solutions to meet it. By adding services to remove barriers on the road to employment, a new tribal driving school was born.

The Chickasaw Nation’s youth employment training program serves First American youth ages 14-21 in many other ways as well – offering on-the-job training, educational courses, personal development opportunities, mental wellness resources and much more.

Program resources have consistently expanded, remaining focused on further addressing the overarching needs of participating youth. During the course of the program, Toksali SMART staff identified an unmet need that created a barrier to employment for some citizens.

A number of youth and young adults who, even though they were of age, did not possess a learner’s permit nor driver’s license. Toksali staff were empowered to develop a strategy to eliminate employment barriers caused by lack of access to reliable transportation.

The team researched, developed and implemented the Chickasaw Employment Access Driver's Education Training Program. This program provides training and coursework to enable youth and young adults to obtain a learner’s permit and eventually a driver’s license, removing a barrier to future employment.

The tribal program became a certified driving school, meeting the required state criteria. The Chickasaw Employment Access Driver's Education Training program is now the only tribal driving school certified by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to teach driver’s education courses and facilitate driver’s examinations.

Fortner finds a way

Spearheading the certification process was Chickasaw citizen Scott Fortner. After retiring from a 30-year career in public education, Fortner joined the Toksali SMART program as a career counselor in 2019, bringing 25 years of public school driver’s education teaching experience to the department.

Fortner was promoted to Toksali SMART manager in 2020. Once the need for driver’s education within the Toksali SMART program was identified, he reviewed application and certification processes and worked with the OKDPS to make the driver’s education program a reality for First American youth.

“His efforts instituted our own OKDPS certified driver’s education school and launched the Chickasaw Employment Access Driver's Education Training Program,” explained Toksali SMART Senior Manager Silas Welch. “Mr. Fortner was responsible for developing the curriculum, ensuring all application requirements were met and meeting the requirements to obtain his certification as a certified driving instructor.”

With the groundwork and credentials in place, he integrated the driver’s education courses into the Toksali SMART program.

“Mr. Fortner’s commitment to Chickasaw youth is evident in the tireless work he dedicated to developing our driver’s education program,” Welch said.

Welch pointed to Fortner’s experience, knowledge and skills as playing an integral part throughout the entire process of enhancing the program by fulfilling unmet needs that impact employment.

Upon receiving licenses and certifications from the OKDPS in early November 2020, the program began its first driver’s education class, serving seven Toksali SMART participants. Due to COVID-19, and to ensure the safety of participants, the classroom portion was completed via Zoom.

To expand the opportunity to serve youth by teaching driver’s education courses, Jim Proctor, Toksali SMART career counselor, also obtained his certification as a driver’s education instructor. Proctor began teaching classes in February 2021.

To date, eight classes have been completed, teaching a total of 83 Toksali SMART participants, many of whom now possess an Oklahoma learner’s permit and are on the path to meeting the state’s criteria for obtaining their Oklahoma driver’s license.

“We are very honored to be able to offer this program to serve our Chickasaw youth, and excited about the future of the Chickasaw Employment Access Driver's Education Training Program,” Fortner said.

Fortner is now both a certified driving instructor and examiner, which allows citizens to both receive instruction and driver examinations within the tribal program.

“Mr. Fortner has been a tremendous asset to the Toksali SMART program and to the Chickasaw youth we serve. Thanks to his hard work and dedication, the driver’s education training program has administered 57 driving exams,” Welch said.