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Charter connection


OKCPS entered a memorandum of understanding with a nonprofit to make the downtown elementary a charter school.

Clifton Adcock October 12th, 2011

In a move Oklahoma City Public Schools officials and downtown business leaders hope changes the landscape of public education in the city, the school district entered into a memorandum of understanding with a nonprofit group to make the planned MAPS For Kids downtown elementary a charter school.

The charter will be unique, officials said, since it will be the school district applying for the charter. The school, which will be named the John W. Rex Elementary, will have a capacity of 500 students in grades prekindergarten through sixth grade and be governed by a 15-member board selected by OKCPS and the nonprofit group.

right, The construction area for the proposed elementary school downtown.

The nonprofit group, OKC Quality Schools, was formed in July 2010 and is headed by a 27-member board that is diverse and ranges from business leaders to moms with school-age kids, said former mayor Kirk Humphreys, who is chairman of the group.

The group was established for the purpose of the downtown charter school, Humphreys said, and began as a discussion between himself, Devon Energy Executive Chairman Larry Nichols and Bob Ross, chairman and CEO of the Inasmuch Foundation.

“One of the criticisms I’ve heard is that this is just an elite school for rich, white kids. I would just say nothing could be further from the truth. This school is a public school, and there are no admissions tests or screening,” Humphreys said.

“For our schools to be successful, they need to look like the community in which they reside. The tragic error in Oklahoma City over the last 40 years is that that is not true. Our community disconnected itself from the school system about 40 years ago. That was because of court-mandated busing and white flight. It left the school district with a lot of challenges. We hope to answer that.”

Humphreys said the circumstances surrounding the school, which is to be located at the intersection of Sheridan and Walker avenues, will be unique because it is the public school applying for the charter, rather than an outside group.

“I believe that this is a groundbreaking precedent,” Humphreys said. “We don’t know of any other public school board of an inner-city school district or anywhere else that’s been an applicant for a charter school.”

Once the 15-member board is established, it will determine the school policies, attendance boundaries, curriculum matters and school leadership, Humphreys said.

School Board Vice Chairman Phil Horning said having a downtown elementary school presents some unique challenges, since there are not many school-age children living in the downtown area. “You have to do something unique to make this school successful, because you’re not going to fill it up with kids that live in the mandatory attendance boundary,” Horning said.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard is that this is just an elite school for rich, white kids. Nothing could be further from the truth.
—Kirk Humphreys

The memorandum stated that 175 of the school’s students must come from the designated attendance boundary.

The next tier for determining attendance, according to the agreement, will be students who attend an Oklahoma City public school that is deemed as “failing” by the federal No Child Left Behind criteria, followed by any student attending OKCPS, then by students not in OKCPS, but whose parent works within the school’s boundaries, then by other students outside the school system.

If the number of applications for enrollment exceeds the targeted 500 student population of the school, a lottery drawing will be held to determine who gets to attend.

The memorandum also stated that the school will be built using MAPS for Kids funds (it is one of the final projects of the program), will receive public educational funds like other charter schools, and that the OKC Quality Schools organization will donate at least $1.5 million over the first five years of the school’s existence.

Horning said the model for the school — that of a public-private partnership — could turn out to be a model for existing public schools in Oklahoma City.

“It’s really an exciting possibility,” Horning said. “The public-private partnership hopefully and likely will be a great success and possibly be a model we can replicate to raise academic achievement.”

Both Horning and Humphreys said the proximity of the school to cultural attractions, such as art museums and the Myriad Gardens, gives students a chance to interact with those locales in ways that were not possible before.

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to do great things, having all of the downtown arts and cultural destinations,” Horning said. “I hope we see lots of the downtown workforce offer their time as tutors and mentors.”

Both Horning and Humphreys said no target date for the school to open has officially been established, although they said they hoped to see it open in the fall of 2013.

Photo by Mark Hancock

 
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