Pathway to Greatness
Edgemere Elementary School is one of more than a dozen schools listed for closure in all versions of the Oklahoma City Public Schools' Pathway to Greatness project. (William W. Savage III)

Preparing to present the much-anticipated Pathway to Greatness realignment proposals, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel spoke into a microphone to more than 400 education stakeholders in the Northeast Academy auditorium.

“Can you hear me in the back?” he asked, the sound system’s amplification faint.

“No!” came a chorus of serious voices, their tones exhibiting anxiety about the day’s pressing question: Which OKCPS schools are proposed for closure?

With his microphone fixed, McDaniel continued, assuring the crowd he recognized how fear and pain come with closing schools.

“The story that we want to tell goes way beyond closing schools, though we will talk about that tonight,” he said while presenting a Powerpoint. “We are going to deliver to our board tonight three pathways that each, on its own, we believe a viable pathway to do education differently, starting in August.”


OKCPS realignment paths

Art STEM, music, PE: OKCPS realignment paths revealed by Tres Savage

Under Pathway to Greatness, “differently” would mean dramatic improvements in resources deemed important by community members, McDaniel said.

For instance, all remaining elementary schools would have a full-time art teacher, music teacher and physical education teacher, something only 18 of 54 current OKCPS elementary schools have currently. All elementary schools would also have at least one full-time counselor.

“Right now, we have multiple examples of elementary schools where a counselor only comes to the school one day a week, two days a week. What we are suggesting is that our students need more,” McDaniel said. “We need to hire more counselors for our kids.”

All elementaries would also have full-time librarians and dedicated STEM spaces. Only two elementary schools currently have dedicated STEM space.

McDaniel said kindergarten through 6th grade class sizes would decline under all three pathways, and he said schools would have more support staff.

Additionally, the Pathway to Greatness proposals would realign most elementary schools to serve pre-K through 4th grade and would realign most middle schools to serve 5th through 8th grade.

Schools that could be ‘closed and repurposed’

But those “trade ups,” as McDaniel called them, are only possible by saving dollars and combining resources through the closure of schools that predominantly have lower student enrollments.

McDaniel said 14 schools are proposed “to be closed and repurposed” under all three Pathway to Greatness plans.

Only one middle school and one high school are proposed for closure under all three paths:

The bulk of the schools proposed to be closed under all three paths are neighborhood elementaries:

Each of the three paths propose at least two other schools for closure.

“Path A” includes two additional closures: Hawthorne Elementary School (2300 N.W. 15th St.) and Spencer Elementary School (8900 N.E. 50th St.).

“Path B” would close two other schools: Linwood Elementary School (3416 N.W. 17th St.) and Rogers Middle School (4000 Spencer Road).

“Path C” would close five additional schools: Hawthorne Elementary School, Westwood Elementary School (1701 Exchange Ave., which would become a grade 9-12 high school under Path A and Path B), Shidler Elementary School (1415 S. Byers Ave.), Telstar Elementary School (9522 N.E. 15th St.) and Van Buren Elementary School (2700 S.W. 40th St.).

All three pathways involve turning the shopping-center property of Emerson South Alternative School into administrative space.

For all three paths, at least five existing elementary schools would also become middle schools serving 5th through 8th grade students: Greystone Elementary (2401 N.W. 115th Terr.), Mary Golda Ross Enterprise Elementary (2601 S. Villa Ave.), Capitol Hill Elementary (2717 S. Robinson Ave.), MLK Elementary (1201 N.E 48th St.) and Parmelee Elementary (6700 S. Hudson Ave.). Wheeler Elementary (501 S.E. 25th St.) would become a middle school under paths A and B and a high school under path C.

McDaniel emphasized a commitment that the repurposing of schools that close under Pathway to Greatness will be more beneficial for neighborhoods than it has in the past.

Four charter schools — Harding Charter Preparatory High School, Harding Fine Arts High School, KIPP and Seeworth Academy — would all be leaving their current buildings, making them prime candidates for the repurposing of newly closed school campuses.

When Tuesday night’s meeting concluded, the district loaded documents detailing the three Pathway to Greatness options onto its website.

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Pathway to Greatness community meetings

The district’s “timeline” for selecting a pathway includes five community meetings between Jan. 23 and Jan. 30, followed by a “final path recommendation” during the Feb. 19 OKCPS board meeting. The board would potentially vote on that path recommendation March 4.

OKCPS school closure plans
OKCPS will hold five community meetings to outline its Pathway to Greatness options. (OKCPS)

OKCPS is Oklahoma’s largest school district, with more than 45,000 students enrolled in the 2017-2018 school year according to state data. The number marks a continued uptick in enrollment for the district in recent years, though the student population remains far lower than what OKCPS served in the 1950s and 1960s.

(Update: This story was updated at 7:08 p.m. to note grade-level realignment details previously published here. It was updated again at 9:27 p.m. to include a link to the district’s Pathway to Greatness newly released documents.)

William W. Savage III (Tres) holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.