This is the second report in our series on OKCPS enterprise schools. If you haven’t already read it, the intro and background information for the series is HERE.
“It’s cool to be smart here,” said Lynn Kellert as she reflected on the uniqueness of Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
She’s been the principal of Belle Isle for all but the first three months of its 18-year existence. It was one of the original enterprise schools.
“They still have all that middle school angst, but the culture here is that the kids and the teachers just get along and take care of each other,” Kellert told Free Press when we visited in the last full week of school for the 2016-2017 school year.
But as relaxed as that makes the school sound, there are signs of rigor.
The Oklahoma school report card for Belle Isle based on test scores and other criteria for all public schools has been “A+” for three years out of the last four and “A” once.
There is a practical aspect to the school’s rigor, however. Kellert said that early in its history students were required to take either Spanish or French.
Now, every student is required to take Spanish all three years as a core subject. It’s just too important for interacting with a growing Hispanic population in this part of the U.S.
Still, Kellert says “This is a place where kids can be kids.”
And Robert Mbroh, the nearly six-foot eighth grade athlete who gave the eighth-grade speech at graduation, seemed to confirm that.
When asked what was the best thing about Belle Isle, he said, “I would have to say the friendliness of everybody.”
“I didn’t know anyone coming into here, and so I was kind of scared. But everybody is so nice and stuff,” said Mbroh. “It’s just like one big family or something.”
“This school is what actually inspired me to become a teacher,” said Katie Alsup, veteran seventh grade geography teacher.
She is the only teacher on the faculty who was once a student there.
“Several teachers were models,” said Alsup. “Now that I’m here, I’m inspired by several teachers who reflect and change who they are as teachers.”
Band/orchestra teacher Janey Illgen just completed her first year of teaching in a public school. Even though it was technically her first year, she did come to the job familiar with classroom and instructional processes.
She was a teacher’s assistant in Putnam City Schools last year and taught with El Sistema – Oklahoma, a nonprofit music program that has filled in music instruction gaps left by state budget cuts to OKCPS.
We asked her how she feels about teaching now that she has an official first year behind her.
“I love it more than when I dreamed about starting. It’s been a real growing experience,” Illgen said. “Having gone through the fire of being first year, I can see how rewarding it can be.”
The enterprise status does not shield those schools from the same pain every other school has endured this year having to pivot multiple times as new cuts were handed down from the Oklahoma Legislature and department of education.
“Right now, funding is our biggest challenge,” said Kellert.
They had to cut $90,000 from their budget on the fly during this school year.
Now she has found out that they will lose the $60,000 they were counting on for Title I services next year. Those funds help low-income students.
But Kellert has been able to guard the most valuable resource for her students.
“We have not had to lose any teachers. Our priority has been to deal with all the funding cuts, keep our staff and keep the programs that are what makes Belle Isle, Belle Isle.”