Foundation bridges gap among Oklahoma City Public Schools 

Mary Melon, President and CEO for the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools.  mh
  • Mary Melon, President and CEO for the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. mh

More than 30 years ago, a small group of philanthropists developed a framework to help bridge a gap between Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) and the community. Their thinking was that students and teachers alike could greatly benefit by connecting the district to community resources.

So in 1984, The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools (FOCPS) was born. Through the years, the foundation has been instrumental in developing the MAPS for Kids campaign and helping the district achieve its goals. Today, the foundation has an energetic new leader and a fresh, reinvigorated way of engaging the community.

“Our overarching mission is to create community ownership for the success of every child in the district,” said Mary Mélon, foundation president and chief executive officer. “The foundation can’t be successful unless the district is successful. That being said, the district can’t do it alone. Our primary function is to align, collaborate and support. In this new day, we must continue finding new and better ways to serve and support our schools and answer the call of our community in terms of skilled labor and thoughtful, caring leaders to serve our communities in the future.”

Last fall, Mélon left her longtime post as publisher of Oklahoma City’s The Journal Record, taking the helm at FOCPS.

The broad vision of the foundation is to see sustainable performance improvements at OKCPS, Mélon said. It plans to do that by aligning its goals and strategies with those of the district, the chamber and other key constituents.

“I have been part of the district’s recent strategic planning process, The Great Conversation. The results are coming together now, and it is amazing how clearly aligned the foundation is with where that process has taken the community,” she said.

FOCPS recently partnered with DonorsChoose.org in a campaign that links teachers and donors and allows donors to engage with educators in OKC. Through DonorsChoose.org, teachers are able to fund supplies and grants for the classroom, according to the foundation’s website.

Since the DonorsChoose partnership began last November, FOCPS has seen 278 projects funded for 220 teachers at 61 schools. The number of students impacted is nearly 31,000, and total financial impact so far is $179,560. FOCPS matches half of every project posted by an OKCPS teacher that is $1,000 or less, Mélon said. The McLaughlin Family Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and school district employee giving, as well as money directed by the foundation for OKCPS, is funding this effort.

“This is also a convenient platform for teachers to outline their specific needs, where donors can learn about a project they wish to support,” Mélon said.

Another way the foundation is getting the community involved is a program called Partners in Action. It is a technology-based outreach program that gets concerned members of the business community and the public at large fully engaged at every school in the district.

“This provides them with a menu of ways to help based on their interests,” Mélon said. “We are also currently developing some ideas around support of the English Language Learning programs and are meeting with key constituents to coalesce thinking about ways to address this populace in our community that is growing so rapidly.”

Mélon said this group of students has unique needs that require a new way of thinking and responding.

Changing the status quo and developing new ways of thinking has been part of Mélon’s approach to rebranding FOCPS during her first few months on the job. Having been at the foundation for about seven months now, she said the primary challenge has been defining a new way of thinking that combines community engagement with real strategies for change.

“It seems so simple because that is the way Oklahoma City has been successful, but that isn’t the way public education has traditionally worked, so it is a cultural shift,” Mélon said. “Everyone is committed to this at all levels, but it still takes some time to solidify thinking.”

Mélon also wants to examine the complex issues that current students face. She said there are societal problems that everyone must acknowledge and accept as their own in order to turn things around.

“Again, the district can’t do it alone, and we as a community need to take a holistic view of each student and understand that every situation is different,” Mélon said.

The foundation recently named Samantha Murch teacher of the year for OKCPS. Murch is the drama and speech teacher and soccer coach at Star Spencer High School. Murch received a $1,500 classroom grant and will represent Oklahoma City Public Schools in the state Teacher of the Year contest. The statewide winner will be announced in August. Murch also received a new watch from BC Clark Jewelers as part of her award for teacher of the year.

Eight other teachers were honored as finalists for the award. Each one will receive a $750 grant. The foundation’s Stars of Education program also honors support staff, volunteers and partners in the district. Support staff honorees receive a $500 award, as do the schools with volunteer honorees. Russell Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation partnered with the school district to create reading rooms at three locations and recently won FOCPS’ Perfect Partnership Award and received $1,000.


Print headline: Solid ground, For 30 years, The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools has worked to improve schools.

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Mark Beutler

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