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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Candidates in the race for Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education Chair defined their positions on issues concerning southside OKC schools in a virtual and in-person forum Thursday night. 

The virtual forum, hosted by Tango Public Relations, was held at the Cantera Event Center on the south side of the city and live-streamed on the PR agency’s Facebook page. Each candidate took turns answering the questions with an equal time of two minutes. 

Incumbent Paula Lewis will defend her position as chairperson of the OKCPS Board of Education against candidate Charles Henry in the upcoming April 6 runoff election. Both candidates took multiple questions submitted from the Latino community to address specific issues concerning Latino and Hispanic students in the south side of the district. 

According to the most recent OKCPS statistical profile, 56% of students in the district self identify as Latino or Hispanic. 

During the hour-long forum, the candidates talked about improving student achievement, resources, representation, and support for English learners and bilingual students. 

To learn more: OKCPS Board Chair race goes to runoff between Henry and Lewis April 6

Candidates for OKCPS Chair 

Paula Lewis (on the left in the feature collage) currently serves as the chair of OKCPS Board of Education. She’s also a former OKCPS board member for Board District 4. During her re-election campaign, Lewis has emphasized improving transparency, equity, and leadership diversity. 

Charles Henry serves as a member of the OKCPS Board of Education representing Board District 1, located on the far northwest side of the sprawling school district. In his campaign, Henry’s priorities include closing the performance gap between higher and lower performing schools, implementing quality remedial courses, and improving classroom management. 

Improving Student Achievement & Resources

Henry said he would help improve student achievement by making sure federal funding and grants are being utilized efficiently to give bilingual students the resources they need to succeed in the classroom. 

“I would make sure that Title III funding is used and allocated to make sure that we help, particularly bilingual students,” Henry said. “I want to make sure we use Title I funding as well to make sure that we can accommodate so there aren’t any deficiencies in any community.” 

Title III is a part of the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965. It’s a federal grant program that was created to improve the quality of education for English learners by helping them meet state academic standards. Title I, another federal grant, provides funds to schools with a high percentage of low-income students.

Lewis said her approach to improving student achievement would be to collaborate with community partners to provide culturally responsive mental health and wellness programs. In her response, she mentioned that the Pathway to Greatness initiative impacted southside OKCPS schools by lowering class sizes. 

Language Barriers

Candidates were asked how they would approach the language barrier challenges that many English language learners struggle with in the classroom. 

There are more than 15,000 bilingual students and over 13,000 English language learners in the school district, according to the latest OKCPS statistical data. 

Lewis believes that actively listening to Latino communities about the issues they’re facing is where the improvement begins. 

“It just comes down to constant communication with the community and listening more than we talk,” Lewis said in her response. 

Henry said his first priority would be to create a structured discipline policy and modify the student code of conduct. 

He went on to say he would refocus the Equity Department on racial and social-economic equity, rather than focusing on mental health. 

Classroom Representation 

Candidates were asked what they would do to bring more classroom representation in regards to teachers. 

Henry said he would use Title II funding to hire more Black, brown, and bilingual teachers to increase diversity in the district. 

Title II provides grants to state and local educational agencies to prepare, train, and recruit more effective teachers and academic leaders in schools. The purpose of the grant is to provide low-income and minority students access to high-quality educators. 

“We need teachers that look like us,” Henry said. “We need more Black and brown teachers in the classroom that look like us because that could help with student achievement.” 

He also said in his response that he is advocating for a penny sales tax in Oklahoma City similar to the MAPS sales tax that would go directly to increasing teacher pay. 

Lewis said that she’s working to create a bilingual and diversity pipeline to help bring in a more diverse group of teachers and leaders into schools. 

“Two of our assistant superintendents are currently working with the state superintendent to recruit more diverse teachers to our state as a whole,” said Lewis. “Which will ultimately help us.” 

The last day to register to vote or update voter registration is Friday, March 12 and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is March 30. Anyone living in the district can vote for one of the candidates for the board chair seat which is the only at-large seat on the Board.

Last Updated March 12, 2021, 12:27 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor