Enterprise schools are a third way in an environment where arguments often center on the binary options of traditional versus charter schools.
Tuesday Oklahoma City Public Schools just completed 18 years of what was once thought of as a radical new experiment.
With this introduction we begin a series on the enterprise model in OKCPS and where it stands at the end of 18 years of application in various schools across the district.
Enterprise schools were a response to troubled traditional schools in the district in the late 1990s.
Back then, when parents started organizing, the push might have been for charter schools had state law allowed for them.
So, proponents went to work developing a model that was allowable by law and acceptable to the district leadership.
Nearly two decades on, the unique school status has become a regular part of the district’s institutional memory because the model has worked.
Perhaps many in the movement for enterprise schools thought it would be a transition to charters. And for some parents it did.
But the model has been an enduring one and lives on serving the district and students.
The next three segments of this series on OKCPS enterprise schools will take a look at how the year went in the four current enterprise schools.
Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School was one of the original enterprise schools formed 18 years ago.
John Marshall Enterprise Mid-High School took the name from a neighborhood school that moved from a 1950s building in the old Britton area to a new one north of Lake Hefner in 2006. The district first allowed it to operate as an enterprise school in the 2013-2014 school year.
Jackson Enterprise Elementary School got its start the same year as Belle Isle as Columbus Enterprise Elementary. The same school organization and students then moved from the crumbling Columbus building to the former Jackson Middle School nearby in 2015 after MAPS for Kids money refurbished the building.
Northeast Academy for Health Sciences and Engineering Enterprise School continues to struggle with the district’s indecision on several matters this past year. Free Press will investigate and report on that situation later in June when decisions have been made for next school year.
There are some significant differences compared to a charter school model.
The “enterprise” status means that those individual schools are organized with their own board that negotiates the school’s yearly contract with the district. The details of how the school will carry on business with the district is laid out in the contract.
A key detail is just how much per pupil each school will receive from the district and what the district will charge the school for administrative support such as handling payroll of the teachers.
Boards for the individual schools have been an important aspect of the enterprise model that has kept parents and community members closely connected.
Unlike charter schools that strongly resist any union efforts by their teachers, an enterprise school’s teachers all serve under the districtwide negotiated contract and graduated pay scale every other teacher in OKCPS has.
And contrary to the environment in many charters, union-member teachers are regularly hired and not stigmatized for their membership.
American Federation of Teachers Oklahoma City local is the bargaining agent for teachers in the district.
President Ed Allen told Free Press that from the beginning they have had a very amicable relationship with the enterprise schools operating under a memorandum of understanding.
He said the biggest difference is that even though enterprise school teachers are on the district contract and scale, they do not enter or leave the faculty according to seniority as is the case in the traditional schools in the district.
“According to our original MOU, the principal has the final say on which teachers are on the faculty at the enterprise schools,” said Allen.
He said the environment in enterprise schools is such that “we seldom ever get any calls from the teachers about much of anything.”
Unlike charters, enterprise principals are expected to attend the principals’ meetings as well as other activities that keep the leadership of the enterprise schools appraised of district processes during the year.
The model has produced results for schools in the district.
Belle Isle Enterprise Elementary remains the flagship school of the enterprise model and so will be the focus of our first report.
UPDATE – Original series plans were to cover Northeast Academy for Health Sciences and Engineering Enterprise School. Coverage plans were canceled when OKCPS Board decided not to support conversion to a charter school. Starting 2017-2018, the school has reverted to Northeast High School, a traditional neighborhood school.