OKC residents to get first look at plans for downtown school

A great deal of education reform and downtown Oklahoma City development hopes are pinned on the success of the new downtown elementary school. The school’s first MAPS for Kids community meeting Tuesday is the public’s first chance to have a say in how the project will unfold.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL Staff Writer mkimball@opubco.com   Modified: June 4, 2012 at 9:09 am •  Published: June 4, 2012
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A great deal of education reform and downtown Oklahoma City development hopes are pinned on the success of the new downtown elementary school. The school’s first MAPS for Kids community meeting Tuesday is the public’s first chance to have a say in how the project will unfold.

John W. Rex Elementary School, a charter school to be located at Sheridan and Walker avenues, is one of the final school projects in MAPS for Kids and is thought to be part of a groundbreaking arrangement. The Oklahoma City School District could be the first public school district in the country to operate its own charter school, and will do so with nonprofit group Oklahoma City Quality Schools.

The first community meeting will feature architects unveiling the schematic design of the school, which is expected to be about 79,000 square feet, including a gymnasium, and cost about $14 million, said David Todd, who heads the city’s MAPS office. Two more meetings will follow in the coming months.

“It will be the first time the public is made aware of what’s planned there, and it’s an opportunity for them to make comments about that,” Todd said.

Construction on the school is set to begin next spring, and officials hope to have it ready by the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Crown jewel

Civic leaders have long hoped the elementary school could be a jewel of the MAPS for Kids program, and also help the ongoing revitalization of downtown.

“We knew it would take us 10 years to build the buildings, but we thought it would take another 10 years to fix what takes place inside the buildings,” said former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who leads Oklahoma City Quality Schools and is on the Rex school board. “This isn’t the first step, but it’s the next step in that process.”

Humphreys’ vision, shared by business and political leaders in Oklahoma City, is that a top-notch elementary school downtown will attract families with young children and be a step toward improving public school education all the way through 12th grade.

“We’re going to accomplish that, one way or another,” Humphreys said. “Unless you can provide a path all the way through graduation from high school, people are going wind up making other choices. They’re going to move to Edmond, they go to private school or they homeschool.”

Principal being hired

The school’s board is already accepting and reviewing applications from people interested in being the first principal, said school board member Bob Ross, who also is a member of the district board. The principal is expected to be an important part of planning discussions.

“We’ll be able to have that leader help us answer a lot of important questions,” Ross said.

Board members and education advocates are hard at work looking at how to make the school special, said Gail Vines, who like Ross is a member of the school and district boards. The proximity of many fine arts institutions to the downtown area could be a boon for students interested in those subjects.

“Those people (fine arts enthusiasts) can get to the students,” Vines said. “The school is right there. We don’t have to pack up the students and move them.”


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IF YOU GO

• What: MAPS for Kids community meeting for John W. Rex Elementary School

• When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

• Where: Civic Center Music Hall, Freede Little Theater, 201 N Walker Ave.

• More information: Go to www.   okc.gov/ocmaps   or call 297-3461.

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