EPS growth
The City of Edmond and Edmond Public Schools held a joint meeting Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, to discuss growth in the city and the school district. (Joe Tomlinson)

The Edmond City Council and city staff members met with the board and other representatives of Edmond Public Schools Tuesday night to address the district’s increasing needs during a period of significant growth, particularly on the city’s east side.

EPS Superintendent Angela Grunewald said 697 students have joined EPS since Oct. 1, 2021, marking the largest growth the district has ever seen in a single year.

“When was the last time we grew by almost 700 students? Never,” Grunewald said.

Much of that growth is at the city’s three high schools, Grunewald said. Edmond Memorial High School, which serves the east side of the city, grew by 201 students, while Edmond North High School and Edmond Santa Fe High School, in the north and west parts of the city, added 95 and 164 students, respectively.

Cimarron Middle School and Central Middle School, on the east side, grew by a combined 40 students, Grunewald said. Those two schools fall into Edmond Memorial’s district. For comparison, Sequoyah Middle School and Cheyenne Middle School, which feed into Edmond North, grew by 20 students combined.

Grunewald also said there has been “significant growth” for five elementary schools: Chisholm and Redbud, two elementary schools on the eastern side of the city, and Northern Hills, Frontier and West Field. She did not provide specific growth numbers for the elementary schools.

Grunewald said she is uncertain whether this year’s increased numbers are predictive of future growth.

“Seeing that large growth of 700 is not normal. We don’t know if this is something that came out of COVID,” Grunewald said. “Is it something that’s coming out of students still coming back from virtual schools? Is this going to happen year after year? Is it going to continue throughout the year? We don’t have the crystal ball to know that yet.”

Josh Moore, the city councilman for Ward 2, said the growth at schools might be related to the large number of building permits issued by the city last year, particularly on the east side of the city.

“[We had] 723 building permits last year, which wasn’t a record for Edmond, but it was high,” Moore said. “But 75 percent of those building permits were in Ward 2, which is east Edmond. That’s where our growth is going and we know that — we’ve done the east Edmond study.

However, Moore said that Edmond’s demographic trends do not track with the growth seen in EPS.

“Our numbers are showing in the last census that our 60-plus population is growing and our zero to 17 population has declined. In fact, the zero to 17 declined by 6 percent, and the 60 plus grew by 6 percent,” Moore said. “So I’m anxious to see how this new number of [697], if that does continue, or if it’s going to show more of a trend of our demographics over the last decade.”

EPS growth could initiate fourth high school plans

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Because of growth, EPS may need to propose issuing bonds to build a new joint elementary and middle school and a new high school, Grunewald said. She noted that the district tries to place bond issues on the ballot every other year, so these proposals would occur in 2024 and 2026.

“I will tell you, we are really probably going to need an elementary and middle school on our next bond issue,” Grunewald said. “Especially if this growth continues.”

EPS purchased 80 acres of property at Air Depot Boulevard and Covell Road in May 2013 for the purpose of a joint elementary and middle school. The district paid $3 million for the land purchase.

“We are looking at least three years, possibly four, before that middle school and elementary would open,” Grunewald said.

On May 2, 2022, EPS purchased 80 acres on Westminster Road and Covell Road for the construction of a fourth high school. The district paid $2.8 million for the land.

Grunewald said the district is still about four years from determining whether a fourth high school is needed, but said funds for a high school would have to be split between bond issues.

“To do the high school in one great big bond issue is going to be a lot,” Grunewald said.

If the district continues its growth and is able to receive an appropriate amount of funding through bond proposals, Grunewald said, the fourth high school on Westminster Road could open in 2028.

Kuhlman: ‘We’re going to have to have teachers’

Representatives of the City of Edmond and Edmond Public Schools met Sept. 27, 2022, to discuss the district’s growth. (Joe Tomlinson)

Lee Ann Kuhlman, the District 1 representative on the EPS board, said she’s worried about having a teacher shortage, considering the district’s growth.

“One of my big concerns as we grow in students and grow in buildings — we’re going to have to have teachers. We have to maintain our city appeal to get those people,” Kuhlman said. “We can use bond money to build the schools, but we can’t use it to pay our teachers. It’s kind of a dilemma.”

Ward 1 City Councilman David Chapman said the city won’t be able to attract teachers if it doesn’t address the lack of affordable housing.

“They’re probably not going to live in the $468,000 house that is our average,” Chapman said.

Edmond City Manager Scot Rigby said the city would be willing to support EPS on the teacher shortage issue at the legislative level.

“[There’s] no use trying to build a great city of Edmond and meanwhile our schools are suffering from lack of teachers,” Rigby said. “Let us know, and we can have that discussion with council — should this be part of our our legislative agenda.”

Chief Younger discusses HMPI’s behavioral health study

Edmond police Chief J.D. Younger discusses results from a recent Healthy Minds Policy Initiative study on behavioral health during a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (Joe Tomlinson)

J.D. Younger, chief of the Edmond Police Department, shared some information from a recent city-wide behavioral study conducted by Healthy Minds Policy Initiative.

“The data was a little bit, I won’t say shocking, but it was interesting that our usage rates compared to the rest of the state, especially for juveniles, our incidents of suicidality were high,” Younger said.

An estimated 34 percent of Edmond’s youth are reported to have some form of mental health need, according to HMPI’s final report and action plan.

Debreon Davis, executive director of secondary education at EPS, said one way the district hopes to meet mental health needs is through the city’s partnership with NorthCare, a community mental health center, which was allocated $1 million in ARPA money by the Edmond City Council back in August. The funds are being used to renovate a building at 15th Street and Kelly Avenue, which NorthCare has already purchased.

The goal is to have the facility complete and opened by January 2023, Connie Schlittler, a licensed clinical social worker who serves as NorthCare’s vice president of growth, told NonDoc.

Davis said NorthCare has already hired two of three employees that will work in Edmond schools. Currently, the Edmond Police Department has two emergency response employees EPS can call, but Davis said EPS can now call NorthCare too.

“They’re able to do assessments on site, obviously with parent permission, and get our kids in contact with licensed professional counselors,” Davis said.

Prior to the meeting’s adjournment, Grunewald praised City of Edmond and EPS staff members for their work.

“I don’t know about you, but sitting in the room with this group, Edmond is in good hands with the city and with the schools,” Grunewald said. “Thank you for bringing this meeting together.”