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Time is running out for city schools


Bill Bleakley August 20th, 2009

It's been a long wait for things to change in the city schools. After desegregation's "white flight" devastated the district 40 years ago, many citizens have toiled through the years to rebuild the di...

It's been a long wait for things to change in the city schools. After desegregation's "white flight" devastated the district 40 years ago, many citizens have toiled through the years to rebuild the district.

Nearly a decade ago, MAPS for Kids was organized, generating close to a billion dollars to rebuild the district's aging infrastructure, technology and bus fleet.

But following MAPS for Kids, the district faced some disastrous circumstances, and its dysfunctional accounting system all but collapsed.

Fortunately, the accounting system is rebuilt under the direction of district financial director Scott Randall and is one of the district's bright spots.

A carousel of superintendents paraded in and out since the voters passed MAPS for Kids, but the district's educational performance remains relatively stagnant and sub-marginal.

Many of the MAPS for Kids organizers argued for the creation of an independent body to measure the district's academic performance. If we were going to ask the voters to provide that kind of money for buildings, it was argued, we must insure that things were also going to change for the better in the classrooms.

They were out-voted by those who wanted the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation to do performance monitoring.

Only one meaningful study was completed after the implementation of the MAPS program. Unfortunately, district leadership didn't like what the report said, and the foundation kept it under wraps for 18 months before it was pressured to release it.

The reality is that only fundamental change will create a successful urban school district. The question now is whether or not the pieces are in place in Oklahoma City to dislodge the status quo and achieve success.

Superintendent Karl Springer says he's up to the task and is asking for community support. He recently received board approval for a partnership with America's Choice and American College Testing Program to revamp middle and high school curricula.

Now renamed The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, the organization has a new executive director, Lori Dickinson, who will hopefully lead it successfully into performance oversight and proactive support for fundamental changes the district so desperately needs.

The foundation has formed a task force to review district performance, with a report expected by Labor Day. Dickinson says the task force is part of a plan for the foundation to become an accountability resource for the district, and Springer welcomes its engagement.

In question is the political will of the board of education. Will they be perpetuators of the status quo or agents of change? A series of abstaining votes, board members walking out of meetings before votes are cast and failures to back the superintendent on personnel matters are not encouraging signs.

Will the new board chair Angela Monson be able to lead the board in resisting pressure from the district's vested interests to maintain the status quo? The district has many outstanding employees, but more than a reasonable number of non-performers.

A picture of Monson's election night victory party published in the Capitol Hill Beacon shows her surrounded by smiling leaders of the district's employee unions. Hopefully, Monson will use her close relationship with the unions to get them to buy into the fundamental changes needed to create a successful urban school district.

While all these forces are at play, time is running out for the district's students. Their lives will be forever enhanced or diminished by whether or not the community is finally willing to do what's necessary to give them a meaningful education, regardless of the challenges they bring to the urban classroom setting.

Bleakley is publisher of Oklahoma Gazette.

 
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