OKCPS superintendent details decision to keep North Highland Elementary open

OKLAHOMA CITY - An embattled elementary school, being eyed for closure as it lacked qualified administrator and teacher applicants, will remain open after a public outcry and flood of community support, according to public school leaders.

Superintendent Aurora Lora talked about the Oklahoma City Public School's sudden change at a school board meeting Monday evening.

"In the aftermath, one of the things that has been really positive is we’ve had a lot of people step up and offer help and assistance," Lora said after word leaked of the possible closure last week.

Lora said she has been contacted by multiple people interested in coming to the school in both administrative and teacher roles, including from some who have left the state.

"And, this - to me - was wonderful, wonderful news about a plan that now suddenly has a lot of great candidates in the mix," she said.

Last week, Lora said "there is no possible scenario at North Highland that is good for students. This school is in crisis, and drastic change will be required to improve the negative culture."

The board was set to take up administration's recommendation to close the school because of a lack of qualified prospects for principals and the majority of the teacher positions remained vacant. Office staff had resigned and only four core teachers are slated to come back for the next school year.

Lora said the district has opened up the option for North Highland students to transfer to other nearby schools and has already received 25 applications.

The administration said an agreement with the principal and teachers union will hopefully help fill the open positions by providing a 10 percent bonus above base pay for administrators and a $3,000 bonus to qualified, certified teachers.

"It’s an attempt to try to get staff in there, and it’s a concept on hard to staff schools that we’ve been talking about," said Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers President Ed Allen. "So, maybe it will be enough to staff the school. Currently, the majority of the teaching positions are open. There’s no one there. So, it’s critical to get a principal in there so they can be involved in the hiring because most teacher want to know who they’re going to work for.”

More than 100 people filled the seats of the auditorium at district headquarters - many in support of North Highland - and some didn't mince words about the district's previous plans.

"It’s amazing to me now that you have teachers and administrators from all over the country, saying they’re going to come, but you couldn’t find none before," said Steve Davis, who lives near the school. “Our children — black, brown, white — they matter, regardless of the neighborhood they come from, regardless of the zip code, at some point in time, you’ve got to stop sitting up there talking the good talk and start walking the right walk.”

While board members were optimistic about the new-found enthusiasm and support for North Highland, they also urged caution.

"Because of the community is the reason why the school won’t be shut down. However, we need to continue to be engaged in this process in the future," said District 1 board member Charles Henry. "When you have a child that’s two, and three and four grade levels behind and they go to a failing high school, that’s the pipeline to prison. I’ve seen it first hand."

"The crisis that we are experiencing now, at North Highland, is only one crisis in Oklahoma City Public Schools," said District 5 board member Ruth Veales.

“I need to hear from you," said board member Rebecca Budd, who represents North Highland in District 2. "In order for this to work, and for us to hold the district accountable and to make things better for everyone, I need to hear from you, and I want to hear from you.”