Tuesday night the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to accept Superintendent Aurora Lora’s resignation effective February 1.
The only official statement made by the district came from Board Chair Paula Lewis after the board was adjourned.
Here is the entirety of her comment to the news media and press:
Tonight, the OKCPS Board of Education voted to accept Superintendent Aurora Lora’s resignation effective February 1, 2018. The board is also designating Chief of Staff Rebecca Kaye to serve as the Acting Superintendent. Although Leadership changes are difficult, we support and have confidence in the teachers, administrators and staff who are steadfastly dedicated to providing the best possible educational experience for the 46,000 students who come through our doors every day.
OKCPS thanks Superintendent Lora for her service and wishes her well.
Lewis did not take questions following her reading of the statement.
American Federation of Teachers Oklahoma City local President Ed Allen made lengthy comments to the media following Lewis’s statement.
In response to questions, he said that he had supported Lora’s push to use the Kotter consulting firm to help the district to get beyond it’s “dysfunction” and “sickness.”
Free Press asked why Allen had shown such a large difference in the way he responded to the previous superintendent, Rob Neu, and Lora.
“The difference is that Aurora Lora is open and honest. Rob Neu was not truthful,” Allen said.
Allen said that he had told Lora that this year was “a make-it-or-break-it year.”
So when she made the mistake of accidentally putting private comments about her frustrations with the board on a regular post on Facebook, he believed that there had been too much harm done for her to go on.
“We need to break this cycle of hiring a superintendent and just believing that they by themselves can solve all of the district’s problems,” Allen said.
He also said that he believed the teachers’ union should be at the table in working through the transition to a new superintendent.
There were one or two community members present for the meeting more as curiosity-seekers and no outrage at Lora’s resignation.
Steve Davis, running for the Oklahoma House District 99 seat, wrote comments back when Free Press asked for comment.
“At the end of the day, it’s about what’s best for children,” said Davis. He was one of the community members who was incensed at the possibility of closing North Highland Elementary.
He said he hoped the board would choose someone with extensive skills in school district leadership and “has the strength and skills to build strong coalitions in the community.”
Davis said it was most important that the next superintendent will have extensive experience in leading “large urban school districts.”
Lora’s calendar time in the district was only one and one-half years on a three-year contract.
She was hired in 2014 as associate superintendent at the same time Rob Neu was hired as superintendent.
She and Neu had both applied for and interviewed for the superintendent’s job.
When Neu resigned under a cloud of suspicion centering on character issues in 2016, Lora became the acting superintendent.
The board then hired her at the end of June 2016 to take the helm of OKCPS, the largest and most diverse district in the state. It was her first superintendency.
The board did not seem to have anyone else in mind. Then chair Lynn Hardin made comments to the effect that they wanted the stability of someone who already knew the district and had been there.
Lora had many hardships that were not in her control, the largest being the Oklahoma Legislature’s constant reducing of budget money from the state during the course of the school year two years in a row.
It was inexcusable for the Legislature to constantly create a moving target for superintendents across the state.
But, it was doubly heinous for the legislature to create budget chaos for administrators in Tulsa and OKC who had situations far too fluid in the first place.
Lora did create her own intense controversies that were her own doing, though.
Early in her administration, she encountered a rarely-seen unionized core of principals who were feeling what they felt to be unfair and reckless pressure from Lora.
She had made statements that led them to believe she wanted to demote or fire as many as ten in her first year.
Eventually, the principals and Lora came to an agreement, but not after a public spectacle of principals speaking through a union.
Lora had to adjust to very different dynamics of the board within her first year as the new chair, Paula Lewis and two other members, Charles Henry and Rebecca Budd, took their seats after elections.
Some new members were openly critical of Lora during and after board meetings.
Her relationships with some new board members came to a head after Lora accidentally posted comments about the board and one member on her Facebook timeline instead of in a private message.
Lora’s insistence on consolidating the smaller elementary schools in the district as a strategy for dealing with state budget constraints was met by large groups of angry parents who valued their neighborhood schools.
Lora eventually gave in and agreed to not consolidate schools for the remainder of the school year and the next, committing to carry out discussions in the community to find a way to save money and still achieve a high-quality education for students.
A little later in the year another furor over a possible school closing caused Lora to lose even more credibility.
Parents and even retired former administrators of North Highland Elementary rose up to oppose what seemed like a quiet move to dissolve the elementary and move its students into the nearby Britton Elementary.
The fact that some schools in the district had been named after Civil War Confederate Generals became a point of contention in recent months.
Lora changed strategies for dealing with the issue several times, eventually pleasing few people and gaining new enemies from those who were against name changes either from the standpoint of local tradition or direct support of Confederate “ancestors.”
A significant loss of trust and support from the predominantly black east side of the city came after Lora’s top administrators walked experienced and popular black principal Sue Starr out of Northeast High School in front of her students.
District officials put Starr on administrative leave and started proceedings to fire her.
Then, the district, Starr and her personal attorney reached an agreement days before her termination hearing. She is now a roving principal filling in for school principals who have to be away due to sickness or professional leave.
Parents and others in the community around Northeast HS are still upset that Lora had arranged to move central office staff from the 900 N. Klein Administration Building to overcrowd NEHS by taking up most of the first floor of the high school for the year while the next administration building at 600 N. Classen is being readied.
Trust is not helped by the fact that no apparent work has been done on 600 N. Classen as the last day of January approaches.