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John Rex School’s original strange hybrid charter will end June 2020 which has prompted new talks with Oklahoma City Public Schools to simplify and make more direct the relationship between the two organizations.

New ideas were presented to the Board of Education Monday for information and consideration. The board may take action on the ideas in November.

As a whole, ideas are more to achieve simplification and normalizing of structure to match other charter schools sponsored by Oklahoma City Public Schools.

And, their top priority tier for accepting students into the school – the Academic Enterprise Zone (AEZ) – will expand to make sure John Rex complies with state laws about serving students from low-income families.

Changes

Rebecca Kaye, whose title in the district is Chief of Equity and Accountability, gave a presentation on the changes being brought about by the new contract.

Her presentation was organized around five major changes.

  • Changing their authorizer from the University of Oklahoma to OKCPS
  • Changing their governance board structure to nine members from 17
  • Add an eighth grade to make their offering PK – 8th grades
  • Changing their enrollment tier structure from four to two tiers
  • Tier 1 – Academic Enterprise Zone
  • Tier 2 – All others within OKCPS
  • Changing their Academic Enterprise Zone

Clear governance

This time, there are no clever agreements with the mysterious group of downtown power brokers named OKC Quality Schools LLC whose membership was carefully kept from the public in recent years.

That is, it was kept from the public until 2018 when Free Press published little known lists of powerful people who at least had once been in the murky corporation. None listed in our report ever denied they were in OKC Quality Schools.

>> OKC Quality Schools a mystery to many

Eventually, the group published what they said was an updated list buried deep in the school’s website.

>> OKC Quality Schools moves from the shadows

By the admission of their one public spokesperson, Bob Ross, they raised no funds and their sole purpose was to designate six members to the John Rex board.

OKC Quality Schools LLC was an exact equal with the OKCPS board by original design, each appointing six members to the John Rex Board.

Then, the sponsor, the University of Oklahoma, chose two and that group of 14 chose three more to make 17 on the John Rex Board.

Kirk Humphreys takes seat after decision by OKC Quality Schools (Brett Dickerson)
Kirk Humphreys takes a seat after the decision by OKC Quality Schools. (file) Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

That arrangement came into question in 2017 when one member of that board, former OKC Mayor and real estate developer Kirk Humphreys made statements that equated non-traditional sexual orientations with illegal adult/child sex.

He resigned from the OU Board of Regents over the statements, which ended his role as a John Rex Board member since he was appointed to the board by OU.

Then, OKC Quality Schools appointed him back onto the John Rex Board.

>> Humphreys back on John Rex Charter board after controversy

The controversy and ill will created by the turn of events revealed the weaknesses in the original organization of the school making it more vulnerable to criticism that it was an elite school only for a certain class of people.

At no point has the actual leadership of the school ever suggested that they are an exclusive school, however.

Academic Enterprise Zone expanded

If their talks materialize in the final form, the school could live up to the Academic Enterprise Zone it has always aspired to.

Setting up an AEZ is an option charter schools have within a larger school district to set up a smaller collection zone where the students within it have first priority to attend the school.

The negative segregation potential of such a mechanism is obvious. Left on their own, charters could simply gerrymander their zone to allow students from already privileged parts of a city to have first priority.

The new proposed Academic Enterprise Zone takes in more low-income neighborhoods than did the original. (From Rebecca Kaye’s presentation at the BOE meeting Monday.)

To combat that, Oklahoma statutes require a charter with an AEZ to have a population in the zone made up of 60% who would qualify for their children to receive free and reduced lunch.

Since the original AEZ for John Rex established five years ago is in a part of Oklahoma City that has been quickly gentrifying, the school currently has only 39% of the population in the AEZ meeting those qualifications.

And so, as they began to work on their next five years contract, John Rex and OKCPS leaders worked on expanding the AEZ to cover a larger part of the urban core which would include a higher number of families that would meet the qualifications for the 60% threshold.

Two board members, Carrie Jacobs and Ruth Veales emphasized that in future years, better efforts than just one letter to homes in the AEZ need to be made to make the population within the John Rex AEZ know about their opportunities.

Two notches for inclusion

The most significant changes are on the extreme north and south ends of the zone.

On the north end, a notch that had been made originally to exclude apartments that had a number of low-income families had been the source of festering criticism of the school.

Several stories are in circulation as to why, but the outcome was that certain low-income students were drawn out of the AEZ for John Rex in the first five years.

In the next five years, that notch will be included in the expanded AEZ.

On the south end of the zone, a notch out into a low-income neighborhood just across the Oklahoma River is intended to increase the required percentage for the school.



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Updated: 10-8-2019, 6:50 a.m.