This is the first of a three-part series on David R. Lopez Community School at Edgemere Elementary in OKCPS.
Edgmere Elementary Principal Alisa Stieg likes doing duty after school every day in the pickup lane.
Her proximity to parents waiting in their cars allows for casual but purposeful contact.
The day Free Press visited, Stieg leaned into one car window and had a quiet discipline conference with the mother of a student who had been struggling.
“That’s why I like this duty,” said Stieg after they drove off. “Parents are much more likely to conference with me through a car window than if I wanted them to come inside the building.”
She has been the principal there since the Oklahoma City Public Schools established it as a community school pilot project in 2014. She was trained in community school leadership.
But, with state funding cuts to public school districts and new leadership in a district infamous for churning administrators, questions remain about the future of the concept in OKCPS.
David R. Lopez Community School at Edgemere Elementary, 3200 N Walker, is one-of-a-kind school in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Stieg, teachers and staff just call it “Edgemere” when they are in a hurry.
And they hurry most of the day.
Working in a community school involves an extra measure of coordination with community services for the students.
That’s added to the usual demanding academic preparation.
The concept of community school originated in some of the most intensely urban cities in the nation where poverty and a lack of resources stymie students and teachers.
Leaders, teachers and staff focus on interacting with the community and extended family members of students far more than the traditional public school model.
Edgemere is in the fourth year of a five-year pilot program to test the community school concept for the core of Oklahoma City and the unique needs of inner city children.
Year in and year out, OKCPS numbers show that nearly all of their students qualify for free and reduced lunch. And along with that level of poverty comes a host of needs that interfere with an effective education process.
And the community coordinator is central to the concept.
Steig said the position is a “huge thing.”
The one who fills that position has direct responsibility to raise financial support and recruit volunteer support for the school to provide wrap-around services students need.
In February 2014, a collection of community members organized as “Friends of Edgemere” asked the OKCPS Board of Education for permission to form Oklahoma City’s first community school.
Experienced Edgemere volunteer Kelly Pearson was and still is a central organizer for the group.
“There were some members of the board at that time who just really bought into the concept,” Pearson told Free Press.
They sold the board on the advantages of the community school concept which has at its core strong collaboration between the community, parents, teachers and administrators for a common outcome, which is a healthier and better educated student.
At the end of the process the group had a five-year agreement that included a promise of $50,000 per year discretionary fund to help with the additional services.
The board also agreed to fund a full-time community school coordinator, key to the concept, with a salary of $42,000 per year, plus benefits.
But board members and district leadership changed. State funding for public schools has continued to get cut, and so have priorities.
“First thing to go was the discretionary fund,” said Stieg.
The legislature started cutting financial support for public education and the district has been squeezed for cash since.
“The $50,000 per year discretionary fund was only utilized in the first year,” she said. “So second year on, we did not have access to that.”
At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, the money to pay a community coordinator dried up as well.
Pearson knew she had to work harder.
“We went to OGE and asked for a grant from the OGE foundation and they granted us the 50,000 so we could hire someone to do that job,” said Pearson. “Without that, you’re really not able to have a community school.”
Spencer Whitman is Edgemere’s new community coordinator. He was an elementary teacher up through last year before taking on this new challenge.
What does it take to connect the dots of care for Edgemere students? We will explore that question in Part 2 – “Rallying help for students.”