As students and teachers come out of fall break and wait anxiously for Thanksgiving break, perhaps it is a good time to remember that Oklahoma City Public Schools started this academic year facing a formidable “To Do” list. While the district anticipated many challenges, some tasks it now faces could not have been foreseen. Other problems were predicted by educators and patrons.
Let’s take a look at the OKCPS to-do list and ponder how we all — students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members — can support the tough tasks facing Oklahoma’s largest school district.
Since January, OKCPS has had to …
- Plan and implement EmbraceOKC, a “collaborative initiative with a focus on mental health,” which involves partnerships with the Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health, Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation, the United Way of Central Oklahoma, and the City of Oklahoma City.
- The related effort of planning and implementing trauma-informed instruction.
- Implement the reorganized Vision of Equity, “so all students receive a high-quality education.”
- Progress toward meeting new state standards on chronic absenteeism.
- Plan and implement the new Innovative Transformation Schools program.
- Plan and implement a new transfer policy.
- Tackle the teacher shortage which results in large numbers of inexperienced and emergency-certified teachers.
- Implement the Pathways to Greatness (P2G) plan which “will impact every student, staff member and family in OKCPS … Our plans would likely include big changes such as new school boundaries, school consolidations or closures, the way grades are structured for Elementary, Middle and High School, as well as school buildings being repurposed to meet other needs in the community.”
- Conduct nearly seven weeks of community meetings on the Pathways to Greatness.
- Close 15 schools.
- Work with partners to repurpose closed schools.
- Rebrand grades and reconfigure schools, most controversially combining elementary and middle school grades.
- Make structural changes in reconfigured buildings.
- Transfer teachers to staff-reorganized schools.
- Change application procedures for magnet schools.
- Reorganize administrative systems for “creating strategic systems and processes that will bring stronger support and accountability at the school level.”
- Reorganize bus routes and hire additional drivers by the first week of school.
- Respond to angry resistance by Northeast patrons.
- Respond to angry resistance and legal actions by Board member Charles Henry.
- Address the backlash against the closure of Harding, and negotiate with Harding Fine Arts to sell the building.
- Deny the application of the Wheeler District Language Immersion charter school and eventually reach an agreement.
- Deal with the closure of Seeworth Academy, engage in battle with the charter school’s board, relocate and reopen the alternative school.
- Plan and implement STEM expansion in 33 elementary schools to be funded by a generous donation and additional sponsors that need to be found.
- Respond to a ransomware attack near the end of the 2018-19 school year.
- Closing schools near the beginning of this year due to unusually early foul weather.
- Deal with highly-publicized, long delays for students waiting for busses.
- Respond to incorrect predictions regarding student populations in some buildings and many classrooms.
- Deal with highly-publicized fights and disorder at John Marshall M.S.
- Investigate a racially-motivated threat at Capitol Hill M.S.
- Decide whether to acknowledge challenges at Moon M.S.
For better or for worse, press coverage on conditions in troubled schools has been sparse. But in my opinion, the next OKCPS to-do list should at least include:
- Implement ideas to combat chronic absenteeism.
- Discuss new research on ways to close racial achievement gaps.
- Manage cell phones in classrooms and hallways.
- Have refreshing Thanksgiving and winter breaks to energize educators so they can welcome back and motivate students for the second half of the year.