The good news is that this year kids are being cared for and educated in the positive environment of Edgemere Elementary in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
But confidence on the part of some parents was shaken last winter by the administration’s threats to close the school.
The failure of the Oklahoma Legislature to fund public schools even at the levels that had been promised by them at the beginning of the school year was having its impact.
Some parents have told Principal Alisa Stieg and school board members that they love Edgemere, but after last year’s near miss, they are afraid to put their children in a school that may be closed midyear.
One night in March, the scene at Edgemere was grave.
Their small cafeteria was packed with parents and even more standing in the hallway.
Tense looks on their faces and stiff body language betrayed a sense of threat.
Superintendent Aurora Lora had announced a few weeks before that Edgemere was one of the schools that would have to be closed because of drastic state funding cuts.
She said the small schools would have to merge in order to balance resources across the sprawling 136 square mile district with 38,700 students and another 6,800 in district charters. It’s the largest district in the state.
Compared to some schools on the south side where almost 400 students have one principal, Edgemere had one principal and less than 200. So it went on the list.
Lora and Chief of Staff Rebecca Kaye went from one public forum to another at the schools that were targeted for merger, which would mean some campuses would close.
They tried to make their case for why some schools would have to close in order to save money and what it would take for them to stay open.
And what they heard from those forums was an outpouring of anger and mistrust from parents.
It was so intense that eventually Lora and Kaye realized that school closures couldn’t just be done with math equations.
Lora decided to hold off on closing or merging any schools until they could engage in an extended process of finding solutions.
Some board members have assured parents this year that no schools would be closed for the next two school years.
But the damage has been done with some parents who are seeking educational certainty for their children.
“We were sailing”
“It’s frustrating to see how great it could be and how great it was until they messed with it,” longtime volunteer Kelly Pearson told Free Press.
She was instrumental four years ago in pulling together the Friends of Edgemere booster club and researching the community school model. Eventually the OKCPS board of education agreed to let them convert Edgemere to a community school concept.
But this year Pearson is frustrated with the impact the threats of closure have had on the school.
“We were sailing. We were sailing and then they messed with it,” Pearson said.
Resources have dried up that were once promised by the district.
And while four years doesn’t sound like a long time, in OKCPS it’s plenty of time for commitments to die an organizational death.
Four years ago was three superintendents ago.
Four years ago the board of education had a different chair and four different board members out of seven.
Pearson seems to have not lost any of her determination to have a school in the neighborhood that does a great job of educating and caring for children.
And she is quick to remind any parent as she reminded us of the “great group of teachers who are all on the same page.”
But she is concerned about some parents transferring to other schools because of their concerns about what the closure talk says about stability.
She wants to reassure everyone that Edgemere is still hard at work serving the children and parents of the district.
“We’re still open. We’re still doing great. We have great fund-raising going on. We’re in a good place financially.”
And so, time will tell if enrollment numbers come back up over time or if the closure threats have had a lasting effect.