Monday night’s three-hour meeting may have been a sign of new things to come for the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education.
“It was great,” newly-elected board chair Paula Lewis told Free Press at the end of the unusually long meeting. She seemed pleased and ready for the next one.
The two newest board members, Charles Henry and Rebecca Budd each took their seats after swearing in, and engaged in discussions immediately.
Apparently, there were no first-time jitters for them or Lewis.
“I’m proud to say that we have seven members up there that are really passionate about different areas,” Lewis said. “So, with that, we won’t have anything left out. There will be somebody up there asking questions for all of us.”
This year it hasn’t been like years past. At times, there was so little interest that individuals had to be wooed onto the board by their friends as a favor.
Instead, in this cycle, Henry, Budd and Lewis all came out of hotly-contested races. Multiple people ran, requiring run-off elections.
And those races generated constituencies that are ready to stay in activist mode going forward.
Budd and Henry had numerous pressing comments and responses to presentations by district administrators.
They revealed a new determination to stand up for equity in the opportunities the district provides to all students no matter their race or economic class.
Lewis won the at-large seat that is designated as the board chair after having been in the district No. 4 seat for a year.
She scored a decisive win in a run-off race against Stanley Hupfeld, who raised $106,000 from some of Oklahoma City’s most powerful business people and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee.
Lewis raised only $26,000, but won anyway due to her deep connections with parents and activists in the district.
Budd and Henry have just completed their own hotly-contested races that drew supporters who are pushing for action and ready to be activists in the district.
Henry’s election took the longest because his opponent, Cheryl Poole contested his six-vote win in the run-off. It turned out that after counting two provisional ballots for Henry, he won by eight votes.
Veteran board member Gloria Torres was chosen Vice-chair by a 6-1 vote of the board.
“I’m excited about it,” Torres told Free Press. “It’s a great vote of confidence from my colleagues about the work that we’re doing here, and their trust in my trying to serve and represent the board as a whole.”
She said she is looking forward to helping strengthen the board through leadership, training and orientation for the new members in the future.
She developed training and orientation for the new members who were sworn in Monday.
“When I was elected they just told me what date and time to be there and that was it,” Torres said. “I decided right then I would not let that happen again for someone else.”
Charles Henry is a defense attorney in Oklahoma City who shows a passion for the district to have high expectations of all its students.
Out of that passion he has said that he is “in favor of traditional neighborhood schools, enterprise schools and charter schools” because the mix allows parents to find the most challenging school for their children.
In his campaign, he was blunt in criticizing OKCPS for not having high enough expectations, especially for Oklahoma City’s black students.
After adjournment Monday night, he told Free Press that the turnout for the close race against retired OKCPS teacher Cheryl Poole “shows that people are very interested in education.”
He said the voters “have a great interest in making sure that our public schools are high-performing schools.”
We asked what his top concerns were as he comes onto the board.
“I want to make sure all our schools are high performing schools,” said Henry. “We have schools that are failing schools – predominantly African-American schools. All of them are failing. So the most important thing right now is that we have no more F schools, no more D schools, and we have high performing schools.”
Henry was not shy during the race to criticize some of the traditional schools for a lack of academic rigor. And so, he comes into the post with those concerns set.
He also talked about the issue of discipline and the seeming inability of principals to stop the disruptive cycles of some students.
“You have kids that are disruptive, they go to the principal’s office and they come right back to class,” Henry said. “Teachers are apprehensive in sending the kids. There’s no intermediary disciplinary process like in-school suspension and detention programs that work.”
His children attend KIPP charter middle school, which he said, “is the highest performing middle school in the state of Oklahoma.”
He said that KIPP takes students from the same “F failing schools” as the other middle schools in the district and then “gets them caught up to par.”
The methods and processes that KIPP and any other successful programs use can be models for the rest of the schools in the district, Henry said.
And he believes “it starts with leadership.”
“We need to equip our principals with leadership skills, because it starts from the top, down,” Henry said.