Three potential outcomes of Pathway to Greatness offer more resources for students
With Oklahoma City Public Schools district facilities operating at 60 percent capacity and enrollment projected to decline over the next few years, it is clear that the status quo is not an acceptable way to approach the future of the district. With those realities in mind, OKCPS launched the Pathway to Greatness project more than a year ago with the end goal of providing a more equitable education experience for all students under a more efficient model. After a very detailed, data-informed process that involved criteria like demographic projections, utilization, academic performance and facility conditions and more, the district presented three possible plans for district facilities that will allow more consistent resources for all students.
The three proposed outcomes will impact every OKCPS student, staff member and family via proposed changes which include: new school boundaries, school consolidations or closures, changes the way grades are structured for elementary, middle and high schools, as well as school buildings being repurposed to meet other needs in the community. The plans also offer significant trade ups for each school, the term the district is using to represent the redirection of resources toward better education opportunities for students.
Increasing equity across the district
The availability of extracurricular activities, support for teachers and access to social support varies wildly across the district, which flies in the face of the district’s policy to close learning and opportunity gaps by providing resources according to student need. For example, two in five elementary schools have grades with only one teacher. Often times those teachers are isolated with which to plan, share ideas or assist a substitute teacher when necessary. According to the district, education research shows that teacher teams of three more members give both students and teachers the best classroom results. After the Pathway to Greatness changes, all elementary schools would have three or more teachers per grade, and smaller average class sizes will make a teacher’s work more manageable. More schools would have support staff; 100 percent of schools would have an assistant principal and 84 percent of schools would have an office clerk (increasing from 46 and 43 percent, respectively).
The research of the Pathways Project also shows that the district lacks consistent grade bands, or the span of grades that are served in a building. Some elementary schools serve students through sixth grade, while others stop at the fifth grade. For all three proposed plans, grade bands are consistent where possible. Elementary schools will serve Pre-K through fourth grade; middle schools will include fifth through eighth grades, and high schools will serve ninth through 12th grades. This will allow each school to be home to a student for at least four years, a researched-backed time frame that allows school staff to build a strong culture. The proposed grade band changes also provide quicker access to more programs and electives like athletics and music.
Most importantly, the Pathway to Greatness project provides increased learning opportunities and access for students. Currently, only 4 percent of elementary schools provide a dedicated STEM makerspace; 33 percent of schools have a full-time art, music and physical education teacher; and only 43 percent of schools have a full-time librarian. After this plan is enacted, every elementary school would have a dedicated STEM makerspace and full-time art, music and physical education teachers. The district would also double the proportion of schools that have a full-time school librarians available to students every day of the week. And as part of the suggestions found in the Embrace OKC plan, every elementary student would have access to a counselor every day. This, in concert with the other Embrace OKC initiatives, will provide more behavioral support across the district.
Similar increases in opportunities will be available at middle- and high-school levels as well. Some of the trade ups include fully functional science labs in every school, access to athletics, arts and extracurricular for every sixth grader, and doubling the number of application seats available at successful programs.
Transforming targeted schools
All schools will be positively impacted by the Pathway Project, but the strategy also takes a deeper focus on the district’s most fragile schools. Initially, the district plans to build an experienced team of educators to lead the schools, develop their skills through professional development and coaching, and then providing the autonomy needed for school improvement. Once the team of educators is identified, each school will collaborate on a tailored strategy geared toward long-term improvement.
Impact of the Pathway to Greatness
In all three paths, 13 schools would discontinue operations and be consolidated into other facilities. While the schools are distributed throughout the district, they do have some commonalities. Some are small facilities that won’t allow a student body size that would support teacher teams and others are old and would require costly repairs. These buildings all have the potential to be repurposed, and while buildings have not been matched to potential uses at this time, the following concepts represent viable ideas that have been discussed:
- Relocation of charter or specialty schools
- OKCPS student welcome and enrollment center
- City/County health centers
- Early childhood centers
Other existing schools will be repurposed to accommodate consistent grad bands across the district. Some elementary schools will become middle schools, and all mid-high schools will be reconfigured to house only middle schools or only high schools. Four charter schools using district facilities and one district school will need to be relocated to new – and hopefully nicer – facilities.
The first of three potential paths includes the 13 consistent school closures plus two more that are specific to this path. This plan frees up enough resources for all the core trade ups and maintains a 5 to 15 percent buffer to accommodate future growth.
With the same number of closed and repurposed schools, Path B creates a slightly higher level of efficiency through slightly shifted boundaries and feeder patterns.
The third option, Path C, closes or repurposes 18 schools and offers more efficiencies by allowing each school to be closer to its maximum capacity. This option frees up additional resources which would allow the district to add additional school nurses and further lower the average class size.
While each plan offers a different solution, they all get the district closer to its vision of providing equitable access to a world-class education to every Oklahoma City Public Schools Student. Superintendent Sean McDaniel will recommend one of the above plans to the Oklahoma City Public School Board, who will then vote to approve the plan on March 4. When approved, the district will begin implementing the changes in the fall of 2019.
“Our highest priority must be serving our students equitably and ensuring access to more educational opportunities and support services, regardless of their zip code,” McDaniel said. “We believe this work will enable our students to achieve the OKCPS vision of every student graduating ready to fulfill their unique purpose in a healthy, vibrant community.”
Hear more about the Pathway to Greatness project at the upcoming Chamber Forum on Feb. 20, where McDaniel will share more about the project with attendees. Learn more.