OKC VeloCity | Oklahoma City Public Schools’ effort to redesign its system is about to reach a major milestone

Oklahoma City Public Schools’ effort to redesign its system is about to reach a major milestone

By David McCollum / Policy / January 17, 2019

Oklahoma City Public Schools’ effort to redesign its system is about to reach a major milestone in the next few days.

Analysts are expected to make recommendations on facility updates or closures and the district will hold public comment sessions on those recommendations later this month.

The project, Pathway to Greatness, is a collaborative effort intended to disrupt the status quo by redesigning OKCPS for the future. The project will align the district’s resources to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students to achieve the district’s vision of every student graduating ready to fulfill their unique purpose in a healthy, vibrant community.

“Trends over time show that our enrollment is declining slightly and will likely level-off in the next couple of years,“ said Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel. “This means our share of state funding will decline, even if the overall funding level increases again. A comparison of the number of students we have enrolled and the amount of space in our school buildings shows that we are maintaining a lot of instructional space that we aren't using, a choice that is directing resources to facilities instead of to our students.”

According to OKCPS, roughly one third of available instructional capacity is vacant.

“We have done considerable work in the last few years to update our instructional practices, to collect and analyze data about long-term trends, and to stabilize our financial situation,” McDaniel said. “Through these efforts, it has become clear that our district is primed and ready for a reinvention to take us to the next level.”

McDaniel emphasized that it is time for things to change, stating that “the status quo is not acceptable.”

He also acknowledge that the way OKCPS did business in the past contributed to today’s problems and that the problem is “a district-wide problem that requires a district-wide solution."

"We must build on what is working and improve what is not working,” he added. “It is time to create the future of education, not recreate the past.”

He went on to say: “The purpose of this process is to get students the resources they need and to align our budget with our values. Our highest priority is serving our students equitably and to ensuring access to more educational opportunities and support services regardless of their zip code.”

The project has involved several committees composed of teachers, principals and other stakeholders. It has also included public comment opportunities, such as a survey to which 2,600 parents, teachers, students and community members responded.

The survey asked several questions, especially of parents. Would they be willing to drive farther to a different school if it meant their students would have better access to electives, expanded curriculum or other opportunities? More than 48 percent said yes. About 24 percent said no, and the rest were unsure or felt the question didn’t apply to them. It also includes some other service provisions, such as increasing access to counseling.

To aid in the planning, the district partnered with local firm ADG to conduct a facilities assessment and demographics analysis. The assessment examined the condition of all district buildings, where they stand on city codes and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and how much deferred maintenance the buildings have sustained during the state’s budget crunch. Each building will have a line-itemed list of the costs to bring the buildings up to where they should be. For example, it could include the cost to replace a building’s roof, improve drainage and expand parking.

“This is a data-informed process,” said McDaniel.  “So all of the criteria are being evaluated and considered. However, it is important to note that there is no pre-determined formula that will drive the three pathway options that are being designed by ADG.”

After compiling several reports, the firm will present district officials with three proposed plans to move forward. Those proposals will be released January 22 and Several public meetings will then be held to discuss the proposals. The times and the dates of those meetings can be found here.

“The Board will receive information about the three pathway options at their upcoming work session on January 22," McDaniel said. "The next day, OKCPS will launch another round of community meetings from January 23 - 30 where I will share the options and continue to gather input from the community. Then, on February 19, I will make my final recommendation on a path forward for OKCPS to the Board, and the Board will vote on whether to proceed at their business meeting on March 4.”

The criteria used to make decisions about specific facilities include:

  • Demographics – actual and projected enrollment trends
  • Utilization Rate – enrollment trends vs school capacity
  • Academic Performance – student achievement trends
  • Physical Plant – building condition, amenities, efficiency
  • Location – proximity to other schools, natural barriers
  • Program Considerations – educational offerings
  • Community Services – neighborhood role of school
  • Safety – facility hazards and surrounding area crime activity
  • Legal Restrictions – contractual or bond constraint
  • Bottom-line Impact – estimated financial results

“We believe that our Pathway to Greatness work will allow us to deepen our investment in serving students and increase student achievement,” said McDaniel.

According to OKCPS, districts who have undergone the same type of redesign have seen enhanced social and behavioral health support; added before school activities and care programs; expanded after school activities and care; child development and parenting classes; more robust teacher staffing; more electives, district-wide; more extra-curricular activities; increased STEM opportunities; comprehensive Advanced Placement offerings; and other benefits.

“Regardless of out the outcome of Pathway to Greatness work, I hope that our families will come together to build strong schools, whether that is in the their current building or in a new location," added McDaniel. "A strong community of parents and other stakeholders working together is essential for our students, our schools and our city thrive. Educators can't do it alone. It will take a village.

Although the next few months will be hard and change is certain, the Board and I are confident that this work is necessary to improve the health of the entire OKCPS system and to provide equity and opportunity for our students. Now more than ever, we must all come together and focus on the future. Our students deserve it and our city's long-term success depends on it.”

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