THE road to improvement for Oklahoma City Public Schools is long and hard. Those who’ve been paying attention have known this for years. For those not as familiar, the reminders are frequent.
A recent news story from The Oklahoman’s Adam Kemp provided just such a reminder. Kemp detailed jaw-dropping statistics about the level of violence even among young students in the state’s largest school district. He explained how safety was a critical focus of the district’s new leadership. Kemp told the story of one elementary school battling back from its academic and disciplinary struggles.
“The police were here every day,” Bodine Elementary Principal Nikki Coshow said of the 2012-13 school year. “If it wasn’t kids fighting then it was parents fighting in the parking lot.” In the school year that just ended, it was Coshow who became fighter-in-chief — for her students and their school.
As a result, parents and school leaders say the school is safer and students are happier. Improving student achievement is the critical focus. There’s a laundry list of reasons why the school is headed in the right direction. We’d venture to guess that strong, dedicated leadership — and the type of teachers attracted by such leadership — are Bodine’s greatest assets. Changes have improved parental involvement at the school, too.
Bodine, like the district as a whole, has a long way to go. But there are other victories on this road as well. The Oklahoman’s Tim Willert recently featured five Oklahoma City students who participated in the inaugural graduation ceremony for the district’s first virtual school. The education background of each student is unique, but they all faced challenges to completing their high school education. One graduate is a 20-year-old single mom of two daughters, including a newborn.
“They’re disciplined and they’re determined, and those to me are actually two different things,” said Jahree Herzer, the district’s innovative programs director. “To me they’ve overcome a tremendous learning curve just learning to go to school online in addition to the personal challenges they’ve had.”
Many of the 45,000 students in Oklahoma City Public Schools face challenges that keep school from being a priority. That shouldn’t be confused with the ability of students to succeed academically. It may just look a bit different and take an unconventional path. Not unlike the district itself.
The district’s reality is sobering. At least 40 percent of third-graders at 11 city elementary schools failed the state reading test. At three schools, more than half of students didn’t get a passing score and could be retained. Think for a moment what that sort of academic deficiency may ultimately mean for kids if not corrected.
Schools are under tremendous pressure; public attention on schools and student performance is undeniably high. That’s not a bad thing, but the spotlight can be glaring and discouraging. It’s easy to lose sight of the small victories along the way.
The big wins won’t come without the small victories that few might see at first — the placement of strong principals and teachers at the most troubled schools, better community support at the individual school level, supporting schools with better behavioral assistance for students.
Here’s a salute to those doing the hard work at Bodine Elementary and other struggling schools to make them places where kids come to be loved and learn. May their long road to success continue to be blessed!