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Monday, Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education continued their busy winter months getting reoriented to operating without Aurora Lora at the helm and prepping for the 2018-2019 school year.

It was Acting Superintendent Rebecca Kaye’s first board meeting in that role, having been chief of staff before the abrupt departure of former superintendent Aurora Lora.

Kaye said the board is taking responsibility to move forward with plans because they believe those plans are solid on their own.

“There won’t be any waiting for the next superintendent,” said Kaye. “The train has left the station and I’m responsible for making sure it’s on time.”

But, African-American parents of Northeast High School students went away from the meeting as discouraged as they have ever been.

And, Native-American advocates of a new Sovereign Community School left hopeful about the possibility that their idea eventually will gain the board’s approval even though the plan for the school was nixed Monday.

Northeast parents

Several NEHS parents spoke during the public comments time and had a common theme: Teachers are overloaded with large classes. Students are falling behind when they shouldn’t be.

And from comments to Free Press after the meeting, the removal of a beloved principal Sue Starr in the fall was and still is discouraging to students, teachers and parents.

OKCPS bd mtg 2-12-18 Ondraye Swaregan
Ondraye Swaregan speaks during the public comment time about Northeast HS (Brett Dickerson)

“It’s a disservice to our kids to deprive them of a proper education,” Junior Coleman told Free Press afterward. “The board was receptive to what we said, but it has to be more than that.”

Ondraye Swaregan is a master electrician and has earned several high-level technical degrees.

“They can’t continue to just bring in TFA teachers from another state who are just wanting to get their college tuition paid off.

“If they are going to pay off teachers’ tuition, make it someone who will live here and make an investment instead of taking off,” said Swaregan. “They have to have a purpose.”

“If there are 35 kids in a classroom, how can a teacher stay interested,” he said.

OKCPS bd mtg 2-12-18 Charlise Dizer
Charlise Dizer has a freshman at NEHS and wants to see better leadership and higher achievement in NE NS. (Brett Dickerson)

At one point in a presentation about dropouts, Kaye seemed to dismiss students who were in high school and still behind.

Charlise Dizer, who had scolded the superintendent for the statement during public comments, told Free Press the statement was a “sign that the superintendent is not here to help children.”

“Her expectations are very low,” said Dizer.

Sovereign Community Schools

After a year of working on a plan for a charter school that would point its efforts directly at Native American students, advocates thought they were nearing completion.

But at the end of last week, they learned district officials still had enough reservations about their plans that the board would be asked to vote against their application as it is.

Then, Monday night, advocates were saying they were hopeful about what they were hearing from the board even though they have turned down the original proposal.

“We’re starting the appeals process now after taking feedback from the district,” said Sarah Adams-Cornell to Free Press after the board vote.

OKCPS bd mtg 2-12-18 Sara Adams-Cornell
Sara Adams-Cornell has been one of the leaders trying to get Sovereign Community School launched. (Brett Dickerson)

“Some of the criticisms we will own. We need a deeper plan for how we will provide for special needs students and provide an appeals process for discipline,” she said.

“But, some of the feedback wasn’t viable for making a correction to the plan.”

She said the turn-down was “disheartening” but they were going to persist in perfecting the plan so the district will approve it.

“The community needs us too much to just quit now,” said Adams Cornwell. “This is literally life and death for some Native-American students.”

Phillip Gover has been working on the plan for almost two years now.

He said he was “disappointed in the quality of feedback.”

But, he also found it “heartening” that they weren’t being dismissed.

“We are hopeful for this appeal,” Gover said. “We want the appeal to the district to work without taking this to the Oklahoma Board of Education. This district is where we want all of this to take place. We want their approval.”

Search begins

The separation agreement with former superintendent Aurora Lora was approved after executive session.,

Lora resigned her superintendency effective February 1.

According to board Vice Chair Gloria Torres, Lora’s compensation stopped as of February 1. There was no contract buy-out.

The board voted to contract with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association to do the search for a new superintendent.

Board Chair Paula Lewis read the following statement while the board was still in session:

I am appointing a board committee to be comprised of 4 members who will work together to provide a recommendation to the full board regarding the hiring of a new Superintendent for the District. We expect to review and vote on this at a future board meeting. At this time, Rebecca Kaye remains our Acting Superintendent.

Last board meeting

It was Ron Millican’s last OKCPS board meeting. The former principal has been a source of stability and calm on the board and is respected by district staff as a kind and wise person.

The moment caught the usually unflappable Board Clerk Craig Cates by surprise.

As he started reading the resolution about Millican his voice broke and he asked for a moment to gain his composure before moving on with the task.

Millican was given a plaque and heard glowing remarks from board members during their comment times.

OKCPS bd mtg 2-12-18 Ron Millican
It was south side OKCPS board member Ron Millican’s last day before he retires from the board. (Brett Dickerson)

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