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It’s “no” again for frustrated Wheeler District developers who want to establish a charter school with a fixed collection zone similar to John Rex charter downtown. They now have 30 days to appeal the decision.

Clearly anticipating the denial, a PR representative for the developers handed out a press release after the meeting that called the decision “extremely unfortunate and unjustified.”

“Western Gateway Elementary School” (WGES) is the name of the proposed charter school.

The Wheeler District is a development of The Humphreys Company. Principals in the firm are former OKC Mayor Kirk Humphreys, Grant Humphreys, Blair Humphreys, and Annie Middlebrooks.

Free Press reported pressure Blair Humphreys was attempting to apply to the OKCPS Board earlier in the year.

Reasons

The developers have struggled with the OKCPS leadership and Board since March to move the idea to a final approval.

“…my recommendation to the board is that the Western Gateway Elementary School be denied due to deficiencies in meeting the legal criteria for an academic enterprise zone over the term of the charter,” Superintendent Sean McDaniel told the Board.

He went on to say the denial was “due to the need for all Oklahoma City Public Schools neighborhood schools to align with Oklahoma City Public Schools pathway to greatness plan to provide aligned educational experiences for all students.”

Elaboration

Free Press talked with McDaniel after the meeting to clarify the denial recommendation.

He said that, first, for the zone to be a state-defined education enterprise zone it needs to maintain at least 60% students who are at the income level to qualify for free and reduced lunch, which may not be the case in the future.

“We know that some of that development will consist of homes that will change that 60% status over time,” McDaniel told Free Press after the meeting.

“We have not really heard an answer yet about how they’re going to reconcile that requirement to be an academic enterprise,” McDaniel told Free Press.

Second, the design of the school is for Pre-K through 5th grade, but that does not align with the overall Pathway to Greatness design starting this coming school year for district elementary schools to go through the fourth grade.

So, alignment with the district configuration for grade levels is still a concern to be answered according to McDaniel.

Response

Immediately after the meeting, Chloe Cumbie with Candor PR, a public relations firm in Oklahoma City, handed out printed responses to the no vote.

The printed response, quoting Ashley Terry with the Wheeler District, said the no vote by the Board was “extremely unfortunate and unjustified.”

Terry was identified in a WGES news release later in the evening as “director of public life for the Wheeler District and head of the Western Gateway Elementary School charter application committee.”

Tuesday night’s visible presence of a Candor staff member at the board meeting signals an intensified PR effort by developers.

Free Press asked Terry for further elaboration on their plans while Candor’s Cumbie attempted to interrupt and even hold papers up between us.

Terry said that the developers would now assess what their response will be, but had no other immediate response beyond the printed release.


Update: We have corrected the original version of this story where we misidentified Ashley Terry as the Humphreys firm in-house public relations staff member.