Meg McElhaney was appointed to serve on the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education Thursday and believes ZIPS codes should not determine the quality of education in the district.
She will be sworn in at the December 9 BOE meeting to serve in the District 7 seat representing the southeast corner of the school district.
Jace Kirk had served in the position until he moved out of the district, which disqualified him to serve any further. The seat remained open for 43 days causing the BOE to extend their original deadline.
McElhaney and her husband, state Representative Forrest Bennett, have lived in District 7 since 2015 and are fiercely loyal to their neighbors, most of whom are hard-working people of many cultures, but predominantly Hispanic.
In an interview with Free Press Friday morning, she was clear about her commitments to those who have been too often overlooked in the allocation of resources both in Oklahoma City and in OKCPS.
“You know, we shouldn’t base our education quality on ZIP codes. I’m adamantly against that,” said McElhaney.
“Because kids don’t have control over where their parents decide to move and live. And it’s holding children responsible for adult decisions, and I don’t like that.”
And she believes that “Pathways to Greatness,” the latest attempt to bring equity to the allocation of education resources is on the right track even if it was quite an upheaval in its first year of implementation this year.
“It’s making great strides toward removing some of those barriers that we have seen historically throughout the district.”
District 7 is shown in the map embedded below. It is the southwest corner of the expansive school district, the largest in the state and certainly the most culturally diverse.
Both knocked doors through House District 92 which has its lower section in the same parts of the city as a large part of OKCPS BOE District 7.
And what they found were neighborhoods where they were greeted and accepted, even invited into birthday parties and barbecues when meeting members of a household for the first time.
The predominant Hispanic culture of the area places a high value on children and their education. And that emphasis has caused the district’s southside schools to swell and test the ability of OKCPS officials to find ways to accommodate the numbers.
McElhaney said parents in District 7 have been “incredibly patient with the city and, and the school board and politics in general.”
“Whenever you have a majority working-class population, which we do — people who are having to maybe work multiple jobs — they don’t have the bandwidth to show up and fight like you do,” said McElhaney.
She said it’s in sharp contrast to other more affluent parts of the district where people only work 40 hours per regular work week and have the time and energy to come to BOE meetings in the evening.
“I think we shouldn’t be putting the onus on people to show up and fight for what they think is right,” she said.
“Whatever we do that benefits the most vulnerable populations of the entire district in the most vulnerable areas I truly believe will inherently help everybody else. It’s not a zero-sum game.”
Some of the strongest charter schools in OKCPS are in District 7.
Santa Fe South was founded by former Capitol Hill High School teacher* Chris Brewster and has expanded into a program that includes one early childhood center, three elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, and a program that transitions their students into college-level work at Oklahoma City Community College.
And recently, Dove Science Academy charter, previously only on the north side, has expanded its program to include a middle school on the south side in OKCPS District 7.
McElhaney refuses to be distressed by the large charter presence in that part of OKCPS because she sees it as a response to years of neglect by the district.
“I think it’s a testament that people who live south of the river want just as great of an education for their kids as people on the north side,” she said. “And if they had to go around the system. I don’t blame parents at all.”
“I do think that it’s a symptom and product of the kind of systematic neglect of the south side.”
She plans to start visiting schools in District 7 to listen to students, administrators, teachers, staff, and parents.
“I’ve got to make up for lost time, especially with the pathway to greatness,” said McElhaney. “I really want to get to know the nuances of the different schools in the district. That’s a high priority for me.”
“I really want to make sure that I’m voicing opinions and problems that are our priorities for the people.”
Since McElhaney is appointed, at a future point there will be an election.
The BOE has set the system for elections to the seat.
The person appointed to fill the District 7 Board Seat vacancy shall serve until the 2021 school board election. Then, the individual who wins the 2021 school board election shall serve the remaining year of the current, unexpired term of the District 7 seat (ending in February 2022).
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*Update 11.27.19, 10:23 a.m. — In the original version of this report we identified Chris Brewster as having been the former principal of Capitol Hill High School. He was a teacher there and went on into administration in other districts.