Parents Louis and Kesha Bell say they've been talking to officials at North Highland Math and Science Academy and Oklahoma City district administrators to no avail since December about verbal abuse of children. The alleged abuse has caused tears and nightmares for two of their children, the parents said. The couple appealed again to school board members at Monday's meeting to stop what they say amounts to deprivation of children's needs. School district spokeswoman Kathleen Kennedy said the district is investigating. "We listen to everybody's concerns, and these are one set of parents out of 40,000 children within our district,” Kennedy said. "And we're sorry that we can't meet the needs of every parent but we are trying as hard as we can to make sure that we are listening to those parents and listening to their concerns.” Acting Superintendent Sandra Park declined, through Kennedy, to speak directly to the issue.
Teachers recordedTo help make their case, the Bells began sending their children to the northwest Oklahoma City school with audio recorders, which they provided to The Oklahoman. The recordings largely document mundane school day activities, like children reading aloud and learning to round numbers. In some places, teachers can be heard praising children's behavior and encouraging them to do well on next week's state exams. But other things children have heard from their teachers include: "Shut up! Shut up!” "Y'all are rattling like wild animals!” "You done lost your mind!” Kesha Bell said such outbursts affect "their education because it messes with their emotions.” The Bells did not get a chance to speak publicly at the meeting because the sign-up deadline was moved a half-hour earlier than at previous board meetings, which they did not know. Outside the meeting doors though, the Bells said they are not against the whole school — for instance they have no problems with the kindergarten class of their youngest daughter, Elizabeth. Other parents have told The Oklahoman about children from whom lunch was withheld until 2 p.m. and children who felt ill after the smell of gas seeped into classrooms but were not evacuated. Kennedy said district officials have not heard the recordings or complaints from anyone other than the Bells and therefore cannot comment.
Some parents pleasedNot every parent is unhappy, though. Alicia Ellison, a school volunteer, has children ages 7, 8 and 10 at North Highland. "That school is wonderful. ... They are great people up there,” Ellison said. How is it that two groups of parents from the same school can walk away with completely different perspectives on what goes on inside? Perhaps the difference is in people's opinions on where the line is between appropriate and inappropriate discipline, and where the line is between situations that can be handled in school and situations that require parent contact, both things Kennedy said the district handles uniformly. One mother said all parents want is for their children to get a good education. "I didn't get an education like I was supposed to, but I want my son to get an education and I want the teachers to be more concerned about the education in the schools than the yelling and screaming,” mother Kim Ingram said of her son Shavon.
Satisfaction risesParents, teachers and students are increasingly satisfied with an Oklahoma City Public Schools education, according to a poll released Monday. The effort is the third time since 2004 pollster Harris Interactive has charted the opinions of those involved with the district. Since 2004, the district has improved in a number of areas. The next such poll will be in 2010. On a 10-point scale, most scores were within the six-to-eight range. Harris assigned letter grades to the responses — an A for a score of 10 to an F for a score of zero. "I really think that the public perception has changed,” district spokeswoman Kathleen Kennedy said, attributing the improvement to MAPS for Kids construction and climbing test scores. Data are based on responses from 23,182 parents, teachers, students in fourth through 12th grades, and staff. Staff Writer Jeff Raymond