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The Board of Education for Oklahoma City Public Schools discussed the district’s strategic plan and the core concepts of a bond issue with unique ease in a work session Monday night.

Typically, when public school BOEs are faced with either of those topics members grow strangely silent and sit very still — scared, flummoxed, or each in turns.

But, these board members have been through two big and sometimes controversial projects in the past several years and endured a few lawsuits sprinkled in there, too.

After seeing one superintendency fall apart, these members engaged in a very intentional and time-consuming search for a new superintendent that resulted in hiring Sean McDaniel.

Then, shortly thereafter they launched a large, difficult, district-wide process that resulted in the controversial Pathways to Greatness plan. Some of the school consolidations were welcome and some were excruciatingly hard for patrons, school personnel and students.

Something had to be done because of fewer dollars coming in from the state. They did it and took the criticism.

But, board members listened, learned, adjusted and now are moving forward to the next big things that need to be done.

Adjust the strategic plan

Bringing up to date the “Great Commitment” strategic plan hammered out under the Rob Neu superintendency is one of the two big projects the Board is turning to in the last half of this school year.

As a part of that process Rebecca Kaye, Chief of Equity and Accountability, briefed Board members on what she has been hearing as she works her way through the district talking with various groups of stakeholders as a part of the “Reconnect” process of updating The Great Commitment.

She reported that most believe some real advances have been made and solid leadership is in place but they believe “the Great Commitment is a mile wide and an inch deep.” It needs to be simplified and made much more adaptable to the current needs of the district.

Process shows maturity

Kaye then led Board members in their own part in that preliminary process by defining what were the “most important cognitive, personal and interpersonal qualities and competencies for student success in life.”

The Board went to work in pairs prioritizing the top ten interpersonal qualities and competencies for student success in life. It was the type of informal interaction that so many boards in years past might have found uncomfortable or unattainable.

But, not these board members. Most have been through much that was far harder than prioritizing ten cards of qualities and competencies.

work session
Members of the OKCPS Board of education discuss various aspects of updating The Great Commitment. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

They hired a superintendent and reconfigured the entire district to mixed reviews from some parents and far too many teachers.

They’ve worked through a grueling lawsuit-laden process of moving Classen SAS into the former Northeast High School. It has resulted in months of lingering tensions around the move. And after months member Charles Henry dropped out of the acrimonious lawsuit he and NEHS alums have filed about the name change and moving Classen SAS into the Northeast High School building.

Seeing Gloria Torres and Henry working together in a simple exercise seemed out of place compared to tense words exchanged between the two in past board meetings this school year and even last.

But, it wasn’t out of place. It’s what this Board has done over and again.

Three groups worked through prioritizing what they considered the ranked competencies they wanted to see in graduates.

Uniquely, but to no one’s surprise, each group came up with the same number one competency: critical thinking.

Comments from members showed that their concern was for students to have deeper capabilities that would allow them to move through other phases of their lives, not just to graduate and get out of the way for the next class next year.

Bond positives

The first step toward developing a bond initiative was started in the second phase of the work session.

Bonds are how districts borrow money. There are strict laws on the books about how the process takes place and how the money is paid back.

McDaniel shared his experiences and concepts of how to develop a successful bond initiative where the whole district could feel ownership of a passing vote.

He pointed out that recent Oklahoma law changes have resulted in more flexibility for how bond money can be spent.

McDaniel focused on the sometimes shockingly high price of buying new textbooks and upgrading technology.

Under the old bond laws, districts had to spend their general fund money on those items. But, now bond money can be used to purchase those and other items that used to use up general fund money.

He discussed the possibilities of bond money freeing up general fund money so that budgets could accomodate more teachers and better support for the classroom.

Members catch on quickly

After he briefed members on the fact that OKCPS has the lowest millage rate compared to any of their neighboring districts, board members easily picked up the discussion.

They discussed the possibilities of bond money freeing up general fund money for instruction and personnel to provide more supports for students.

Carrie Jacobs pointed out that the OKCPS millage rate is so low right now the district is robbing the general fund to pay for what could be paid for with bond money.

OKCPS BOE work session
Meg McElhaney (left, foreground) and Carrie Jacobs work on prioritizing a set of cards to clarify what the BOE values most for graduates of the district. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Rebecca Budd said that one big drain on the general fund is trying to maintain old buildings that are energy inefficient and require large sums of maintenance money to keep them going. If they were repaired with bond money that would allow general fund money to be put to other uses for the students.

Charles Henry said that if we can show how bond expenditures allow freeing up of the general fund to pay teachers more and spend more in the classrooms, all people should be able to understand what will happen if the bond passes.

And, Ruth Veales said that many teachers she has talked to don’t just want a pay raise. They are concerned to lower the class sizes by hiring more teachers so that students get more attention.

Community meetings in March

Next in the process of updating The Great Commitment will be a series of community meetings during March where parents and community members are encouraged to come and be a part of a process of clarifying what the community wants from the district.

“It won’t be to just come, sit, and listen,” Kaye told Free Press. “Community members will be actively involved in small groups at these.”

Meetings will be:

March 3 | 6:00 PM
Douglass High School: 900 N Martin Luther King Ave

March 5 | 6:00 PM
John Marshall Enterprise High School: 12201 N Portland Ave

March 10 | 6:00 PM
Capitol Hill High School: 500 SW 36th St

March 12 | 6:00 PM (Spanish)
US Grant High School: 5016 S Pennsylvania Ave

Watch this space for more information this week.

Last Updated February 25, 2020, 7:58 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor