Parents voice optimism, concerns at first community meeting discussing OKCPS’ district realignment plans

OKLAHOMA CITY - Hundreds of parents filled the auditorium at U.S. Grant High School on the city's south side Wednesday evening for the first of five community meetings being held by Oklahoma City Public School District officials to discuss the district's three plans for realigning and closing as many as 18 schools.

Superintendent Sean McDaniel started off the meeting by showing a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the aspects of the district's Pathway to Greatness project. Under the three options unveiled at a board meeting Tuesday, 15 or 18 schools would close and be repurposed for other uses. The vast majority of the closures under the three plans would be to elementary schools and one mid-high school, Oklahoma Centennial.

In the cafeteria, human-sized maps detailing the attendance zone changes as people could submit questions by card. Those wishing to ask questions could do so directly after the presentation.

As expansive as the plans are, so were the range of questions: from impacts to school boundaries and feeder schools, the effects to fine arts programs caused by the merging Classen SAS with Northeast Academy, to what is being done to ensure schools that are slated to close will be supported to finish the school year strong.

"I think it's a good plan. It’s long overdue. But we have schools like Harding Charter Prep, and Classen School of Advanced Studies, giving them seven months to prepare for these big changes. It doesn't work," said Classen SAS parent Brina Hurst.

"It would take a lot of work. Especially for schools like Harding Charter Prep, Classen, and that's a lot. With other schools. I think it's possible."

The meeting at U.S. Grant is the first of five total meetings held at other locations in the district this week and next. On Thursday, another meeting will be held at Grant at 6:00 p.m., the majority of the presentation and discussion in Spanish (with English translations). More than half of the district's student population is Hispanic. Meetings will be held at 6:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week at Star Spencer, Douglass and NW Classen, respectively. Headsets for Spanish translation are available for each meeting.

After the meetings, McDaniel intends to present the administration's recommendation to the board in late February with a decision to be voted on by March 4.

Under all three plans, four schools would be relocated: Emerson South alternative school as well as Harding, KIPP, and Seeworth Charter Schools. At the meeting Wednesday night, a number of Harding parents and teachers spoke, asking questions of McDaniel where the school would relocate to, why the school was chosen to relocate over others, and how a relocation would impact one of the state's highest-rated schools. One parent asked McDaniel for a one year stay on relocating.

McDaniel admitted that the process was not exactly clear for the outcomes for the charter schools that would relocate, including Harding, but said he intends to sit down with school officials to discuss the details of how the schools were chosen for relocation and listen to those concerns.

In what the district calls "trade-ups," school closures would help better align the district's 40,000-plus student population, save costs that can be invested elsewhere, and provide opportunities for all students currently available for just a portion of the district and its schools.

Under all three plans, all elementary schools would offer full-time art, music and physical education classes, as well as have at least one full-time counselor on hand for students needs.

Schools would also be reconfigured to mostly follow a Pre K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 grade levels.

"I don't know if it's been put forth well enough, or strongly enough, this is an effort, as much to support teachers as it is to support families communities and the kids," said Bridgid Cook, an OKCPS parent who was also on one of the two task forces created to assess the district's positives, needs and desired solutions.

"And another thing that is not said enough -- I think -- there are 45,000 kids. I have two kids in the school district. But I have to look out for 45,000 -- so all these decisions is hard. This is hard. There’s been a lot of tears cried."

"Time is of the essence," Cook said. "We have to do things differently, now. It's not working right now. And we have to do things now, we can't wait a year."

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