An elusive opportunity 

Improving public education requires focus, dedication and perseverance, and the results are generally incremental at best. Anyone who says they can immediately turn a challenged school district around is being less than truthful. There are no magic bullets in public education, particularly in an urban setting.

A school district must have the full and collaborative support of its patrons, board of education and administration to thrive and make progress.

Overcoming the many obstacles and challenges to improving schools requires a team effort not only from within the district, but also the support of the commercial, nonprofit or governmental sectors of the community.

The Oklahoma City Public Schools district now has before it an opportunity to build a team effort that has eluded it for decades.

First, the current board members are thoughtful, sincere and capable people committed to improving the district. Following the recent resignation of the chair and election of two new board members, they seem to be working very well together and lack personal agendas.

Secondly, due to the chair vacancy, the board has the opportunity to appoint a chair of its choosing who will serve until next spring.

Under legislation passed in 2000, the district adopted an expansion of its board of education that created the position of chair of the board. The chair has greater powers than board presidents in other school districts, and the role is comparable to a mayor of a city in many respects.

The board members are now searching for a new chair in advance of the date in late August on which they can make an official appointment. Addressing the chair-appointment process now is critically important to the selection of the new superintendent of schools.

Superintendent applicants will have a keen interest in the appointment. They know that a solid working relationship between the chair, the superintendent and the board, as well as a mutual understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities, will be critical to the success of the district.

Thirdly, the board is also committed to the selection of a superintendent by July 1, and appropriately so. In spite of the infrastructure successes of MAPS for Kids, the lack of consistent governance has taken its toll on the organization. It is critically important that the board get its leadership positions filled as soon as possible and in advance of the start of the new school year.

Most encouraging are the expressions of many board members, district patrons and businesspeople that the board should give priority consideration to Oklahoma administrators with proven track records as superintendents in urban districts that have socio-economic diversity in their student bodies.

There are several such Oklahoma administrators who meet these criteria. Selecting one of them will give the board and district a solid start in meeting the challenges the district now faces.

With a new board, a new chair, a new superintendent, and support from the city's public and private sectors, the Oklahoma City Public Schools district truly has a remarkable opportunity to achieve effective school performance and adequately serve every student in the district.

Bleakley is publisher of Oklahoma Gazette.

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