News that Oklahoma City now is home to the state’s largest school district flew mostly under the radar last week. But the challenges that growing enrollment and shifting demographics present are significant.
State education officials reported 42,750 students in the Oklahoma City School District, surpassing Tulsa, which has long been the state’s largest district. Of Oklahoma City’s 1,481 new students, 1,285 are Hispanic. Hispanic students now account for 41 percent of the district’s enrollment. The obvious challenge is language. Many of the Hispanic students don’t speak or write English well and that requires extra work on the part of schools. That’s compounded by the reality that many of the students’ parents also don’t speak English, which makes helping their children and communicating with the school difficult. But there’s also a challenge of logistics. Most of the district’s growth is on the south side. Capitol Hill Elementary is the district’s largest elementary school, with more than 1,000 students. Several other south Oklahoma City elementary schools have more than 500 students, and the opening of a new school next year and 2007 bond money to build classrooms could relieve some of the enrollment pressure. Elsewhere in the city, very few schools reach that size. Meantime in the northeast area of the district, enrollment is a far different story. Five of the 11 elementary schools in that area have fewer than 200 students. In fact, those five schools are the district’s smallest elementary schools. Only one school in the area — Willow Brook — has 500 or more students. Two of the smallest schools — Green Pastures and Parker — are to be merged as part of the MAPS for Kids plan.