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‘Radical’ retooling


The Oklahoma City Council and Oklahoma City Public Schools embrace bold measures to improve the school district

Clifton Adcock January 18th, 2011

On a cold January night in a crowded conference room on the third floor of the Oklahoma History Center, a radical plan intended to fundamentally change Oklahoma City Public Schools was unveiled to city leaders.

And if all aspects of the plan are implemented, it could have a dramatic impact on schools across the state as well.

The Jan. 11 meeting between the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education and the Oklahoma City Council allowed city leaders to ask questions and make comments about the school district’s upcoming strategic plan.

The district, which began forming the strategic plan last summer and through the fall, included input and suggestions from school officials and workers, parents and businesses and community and city leaders, in an effort to improve the district.

In recent months, some on the council have expressed concern about the situation at the district, and both sides have expressed a desire to work together to improve the schools. The Jan. 11 meeting was the first joint meeting of its kind.

“This really is a new day and a good day. The relationship between Oklahoma City Public Schools and Oklahoma City is vitally important to both entities,” said school board Chairwoman Angela Monson. “If the city is going to continue to grow and prosper and our school district is going to continue to get better, it does require a direct working relationship.”

Deputy Superintendent Sandra Park said the plan will be the district’s “guiding light” and that district officials are working to make sure it does not fizzle after being implemented.

A business plan has not yet been formulated, although it is possible that the district will have to shuffle funds to implement the plan, school officials said, a move that might require more cutbacks.

The school system, which is already facing severe budget cuts because of decreases in state funds, recently received a $1.3 million reduction in state funding in this year’s midyear adjustment, despite having more students than last year, said district CFO Scott Randall.

The district is working to factor in the cost of implementing the plan into next year’s budget, Randall said.

“It’s a trade-off,” Randall said.

“What is (the budget) going to be without new funding coming in? It will be a trade-off of perhaps people, perhaps services or perhaps material. We will be looking at that and evaluating where those opportunities exist.”

It’s likely the strategic plan will be considered for approval by the school board at its next regular meeting, Park said.

The draft plan has four main strategic initiatives: improving the academic success of students, improving support from families and the community, improving the school environment and improving leadership.

Cabinet-level staff members will “own” one issue and be directly responsible and accountable for that issue’s oversight and implementation, Park said.

Those four main issues have several associated goals and initiatives to be accomplished by 2015. Some, such as implementing a continuous learning calendar, have already been put in place.

One of the more ambitious initiatives that could affect school districts statewide is the district’s plan to urge lawmakers to create a law mandating parent or guardian participation in their child’s academic planning.

“Now, this is radical. This is new; this is big for us,” Park told the group.

Park said such legislation would likely spur debate reminiscent of that surrounding mandatory seat belt laws.

“There’s a responsibility that comes along with parenting, and that’s to be involved in your student’s life,” Park said. “We believe that if you take the road of having a child and you enroll that child in school, you need to participate in that child’s education and so we’re going to ask for some statutory language that will help back us up on that.”

Superintendent Karl Springer said the district is also supporting a bill already filed in the Legislature that would repeal trial de novo, which allows teachers fired by the school board to appeal their case to district court. The procedure has been blamed for causing lengthy termination processes.

A third legislative initiative the district hopes to see as part of its plan, and one promoted by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett at his Jan. 13 State of the City address, is the lengthening of school days and the school year.

“I know some of this means fairly drastic changes. I know it’s going to create a lot of turf issues, but that’s too bad, because what we’re doing now isn’t working,” Cornett said in his address. “If you live in this community, this is your problem, and we’re going to need your help to fix it. But fix it we will.”

Springer said the district has taken a tougher approach to having strong, effective leaders at each school site. “We can’t afford to have people who are just nice people leading those schools,” Springer said. “We have to be very proactive about ensuring that those people are into visiting classrooms, checking on instruction, being instructional leaders, really getting to know who the kids are.”

Springer said the district has already removed some principals who were not willing to accept many of the coming changes and there has already been a “huge turnover in building leadership.” Out of 78 building leaders, there has already been a change of around 24, Springer said.

“When folks imparted to us that they weren’t going to change, we helped them find something else to do with their lives,” Springer said. “In this school district, we’re no longer going to evaluate our leadership on how good their excuses are, but how good our results are.”

Monson said the board and administration is working to eliminate a “climate of fear” that often caused some problems or concerns to go unreported.

“The culture of fear that existed in our district, where people are afraid to come forward — we hope to change that,” Monson said. “I think this board has made it very clear that if there are inequities and shortcomings inside a building, if people speak up about it, they will not be reprimanded for speaking up about something that’s incorrect.”

STRATEGIC PLAN

› Academic success of students › Family and community support › School environment › Leadership

Click here for the complete map of the district’s strategic initiative.

 
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