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Monday night the project to establish a charter school in the Wheeler District moved decisively closer to the goal to open the school fall 2020.

Western Gateway Elementary School charter project application for authorization was approved by the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education.

The board vote was five in favor, one against, and one abstaining for approving the many-times adjusted application of the charter project that has been in process with the district since fall 2018.

The last setback for the project was when the Board voted against approving the application again at their July 15 meeting.

Providing that contract negotiations go according to plan, the school will receive state funding under its authorization. However, money for the building of the school is being raised from private donors.

Response

Ashley Terry, who is the key staff member with the Wheeler District and lead on the WGES project looked relieved when she talked with Free Press after the vote.

“We are overjoyed. I mean, we’re thrilled,” said Terry. “Our goal this whole time was to create a partnership with OKCPS. And we’re thrilled that we’ve made it to that point.”

“We’ve had such a fantastic and collaborative relationship with OKCPS,” Terry said.

“We’ve been thankful for the feedback that they’ve given us. And so we’re confident that it will continue to be collaborative as we move into the contract phase.”

Acceptable application

WGES project leaders responded to the latest round of objections by the district to the satisfaction of Superintendent Sean McDaniel and staff.

McDaniel then recommended approval of the application Monday night, being careful to say that the negotiations on the contract were still to come and would have to be voted on by the Board later.

In response to district concerns, developers expanded the proposed boundary to include some houses south of the Wheeler District property and further west including half of the Will Rogers Courts public housing complex.

Their new proposal also calls for organizing Pre-K through fourth grade to bring them into alignment with the district’s shift under the Pathway to Greatness plan for fifth through eighth grades to be included in middle school.

WGES was originally designed for Pre-K through fifth grade.

The school is intended to be a dual immersion language school to promote language proficiency in both English and Spanish.

Ashley Terry, Wheeler District staff member, presents the developer’s case July 15 for a new charter school in the new development. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

Developers began talks with the district in March seeking approval to be an academic enterprise zone which would allow them to limit who attends the school according to a particular geographic zone in exchange for being required to accept all students in that zone.

The state rule is that at least 60 percent of the students in a school served by an academic enterprise zone much be qualified for free and reduced lunch. The purpose of the academic enterprise zone concept is the help poor communities in need of an academic uplift.

The model WGES project leaders are proposing is similar to the academic enterprise zone established by John Rex Elementary School downtown.

Ongoing concerns

Some board members, staff and McDaniel have continued to be skeptical that the school would continue to serve at a 60 percent level once more housing was created in the sizable Wheeler District development consisting of all new housing with new housing prices.

Their concern is that once fully developed, the economic diversity of the zone would narrow with 60 percent reduced and free lunch qualifiers being heavily outnumbered.

Monday night, McDaniel warned that if there were significant shifts in the economic makeup of the zone due to development of the Wheeler District, OKCPS would re-evaluate the charter authorization.

Board member Carrie Jacobs also expressed concerns about the ability of the school to maintain the 60 percent threshold of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

At the recommendation of Superintendent Sean McDaniel, the Board rejected the last bid for the charter to be accepted under the district’s sponsorship in its July 15 meeting.

This came after a series of setbacks where the Board continued to request more information from the Western Gateway organizers about how they would accept students for dual immersion and how they would insure that the 60 percent threshold would be maintained.

Wheeler District

WGES is the brainchild of Wheeler District developers and is intended to serve schoolage children in the Wheeler District and children in the nearby neighborhoods.

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.



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