Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

OKCPS to present district re-alignment options at meeting next week; 14-20 schools slated for closure, re-purposing

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma City Public Schools officials are set to unveil three options for district realignment at a meeting next Tuesday that will close at least 14 schools.

The three options, part of the district's Pathway to Greatness Project, have been whittled down during a process that started last summer, after receiving public input over the last several months.

Under the three options, anywhere between 14 to 20 schools would close, district superintendent Sean McDaniel said in an interview with News 4 Friday.

"We want to identify those who have been least-served, those who have been marginalized, those who are not getting opportunities, and reinvest – not take the last thing away," McDaniel said. "And so when we see the map of the closures, and the re-purposed buildings, and the reconfigurations, it is a really good, positive distribution."

The exact schools and number of schools closed under each plan is still under wraps, but will be presented at a school board meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Northeast Academy. Community meetings will be held in the following days to receive input from the community on the options before the board.

Under the three plans, McDaniel said closed schools would be re-purposed as community centers, early child and Pre-K programs, and possibly be used by the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. The plans would also keep 5-8 schools open, but serve different grade levels come the start of the 2019 school year.

"My reaction is that’s terrible. I hate to even hear that. This is my first time hearing that," said Hycynthia Thompson of word that at least 14 schools will close come next year while picking up her great-grandchildren from Martin Luther King Elementary. Thompson said her children, grand-children and now great-grandchildren attend the school and worries how any neighborhood school closures would impact the community.

"I’ll be at the meeting, for sure," Thompson said. "And I'm pretty sure a lot of people in the area and the neighborhood will there, because that's kind of detrimental for the kids over in this area."

McDaniel said he hopes that when the options are unveiled Tuesday that the public will see that the district is reinvesting in the district, building on its successes, and not just view the plans as school closures. However, he admits there will be growing pains for parents, students, teachers and staff.

With more than 45,000 students, McDaniel said some Oklahoma City schools are at capacity, while others have empty seats. Some schools provide classes and programs - like art, music and physical education - that others don't. McDaniel said the same is true for full-time counselors. The three options would put art, music and physical education programs in all elementary schools, as well as full-time counselors.

"Enrollment and capacity is one thing, but the result of the way we do business is kids are missing out on opportunity. When you have kids who are going to school at the elementary level who do not get access to music, art, a full time counselor, after school programming, they’re losing opportunities that – in other areas of the district – that’s just taken for granted," he said. "And that's not how schools should operate."

Once an option is chosen by late February, McDaniel says work will begin on providing support for families, students, teachers and staff at closing schools, and provide opportunities for those who are re-locating to get acclimated with their new environment through fairs and open houses starting in the spring and summer.

McDaniel said the district is planning for overlap of school principals and administrators and will do everything possible to protect employment for all employee groups, but doesn't expect there to be many problems when it comes to teachers and support staff. Oklahoma Citys teacher's union President Ed Allen is optimistic about the coming changes, but is aware of the challenges ahead.

"There are a lot of problems in our district. But there are 40,000 kids who need people to be adults and make the right decisions," Allen said Friday.

"We've got to do our job of making this process as painless as possible. And when problems come up - and there will probably be some unexpected issues that come up - we have to be right on top of that, so that people say 'Okay, there was a problem. They fixed it,'" he said. "We’ll know our district has arrived when people are coming back into the district. That's when we’ll know we’ve turned the corner."

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