OKLAHOMA CITY - Losing a loved one can be fraught with emotion, but for parents and teachers of a northwest side elementary school, one of 15 slated to close next year under the district's yet-to-be-approved realignment plan, the grief is palpable.
"It is the denial stage. Honestly. It is. Just because I can’t believe they're going to close the school down," said Arturo Rojas, a parent at Linwood Elementary, after leaving a parents and staff-only meeting with the district superintendent early Friday evening.
Oklahoma City Public Schools is just days away from a final decision on whether to approve the closure of the schools and realign the district, part of its Pathway to Greatness plan, to put the district on better financial footing, evenly distribute students and staff across all grade levels, and increase educational opportunities for the district's 45,000 students.
But that plan, which calls for the closure and re-purposing of the closed schools, has given parents pause since the three options were unveiled by the district earlier this year. On Friday, Linwood Elementary parents pleaded with district leaders against the school's closure.
"Hopefully [Superintendent Sean McDaniel] did get a good message from us. The message we're sending out to him and the board members. We want to keep Linwood open, and hopefully instead of considering our school to be closed, the other schools," said Rojas. "If [the closure] does happen, we're going to have to go with it and hope for the best, honestly. I have great faith in what the superintendent's plan is."
Several hundred parents, children, teachers and volunteers filed into the gymnasium late Friday afternoon after school let out for the day. Students still unsure about how the closure will affect their teachers and staff, who will likely be shifted to other schools in the district.
"I don’t think it should close because there's so many good teachers here. And where would they go?" said 5th grader Mariana Gramajo. "The lunch ladies? They make the best food. I don’t think they should go to another school and they love it here."
"We have everything we need for education," said Mariana's mother, Marlen Gramajo. "I learned English with my little child. He started to come here to [Oklahoma's statewide early childhood program Smart Start] when he was six months. It's our life. It's our life."
Paula and Scott Freeman, who volunteer at the school weekly, said they were left scratching their heads as to why a school like Linwood would be slated for closure, considering the positives and improvements they see as outsiders.
"I asked the criteria for closing the school, because this school is full. And I asked why are you closing a school that is full? That seems like it could not be a criteria for closing, and he really didn't have an answer for me. More like, 'we looked at everything and financially this is the best way,'" said Paula Freeman, who volunteers once a week as a reading tutor for first grade girls.
“This is my third year and this is a great little school and I’m kind of wondering, it’s frustrating to me because this school seemed to check all the boxes that the superintendent wants to get to the greatness. So I’m not sure this is one that’s selected for closure," said Scott, who comes to the school with his therapy dog twice a week. "I'm not sure they’re willing to move on this one. And I understand what's behind it, to make the rest of the schools great. I think you need to have a plan to change things."
Teachers brought up the school's improvements and an averaged passing 'C' grade on the recently revamped state school report card system as another reason for questioning the closure of Linwood.
"It's disappointing because we are better. We are higher rated," said McKenzie Marlin, a 5th grade teacher. "We have room to go and we already are, we already have the upgrades and trade-ups and we already are on a pathway to greatness, already."
Superintendent McDaniel, who fielded questions during the roughly hour-and-a-half meeting, stayed after to answer more questions and concerns from parents.
McDaniel said the issue of Linwood's closure is a tough one and that it has a unique story, but added that the district loses students each year, and many students are not set up to succeed when it comes to heading off to college, or entering a career field.
"But my belief is that this plan, this Pathway to Greatness plan, provides us hope for a better life. Not just we’re going to have a better school year. It provides hope for a better life and more opportunities for 45,000 kids," McDaniel said. "We can't make a decision for 45,000 based on a single school. And that's hard, that's hard to convey to people because they have their school in mind. And they want to talk about their school. And me, the board, my team, we don’t have the luxury."