TOUGH days are ahead for Oklahoma City's Douglass High School. Students and teachers, back in classrooms this week following fall break, have returned to a school different from when they left.
As the break began, Principal Brian Staples was on administrative leave amid allegations of cheating, grade changing and inflating student performance. While students were gone, Staples resigned. In his place, district officials appointed two administrators from other schools and a retired administrator to temporarily lead Douglass.
The allegations against Staples are serious enough that the U.S. Department of Education is investigating. The district's investigation began four months ago, but Staples wasn't suspended until federal officials confirmed that they're also investigating.
In announcing Staples' resignation, Superintendent Karl Springer said the district's internal findings would be turned over to federal, state and local authorities, including the Oklahoma County district attorney's office.
Many questions remain about the specifics of the allegations — those deemed true and untrue by the district's investigation — and whether anyone else will be implicated. We expect a full accounting of the issues at the appropriate time. The potential consequences are serious on many fronts.
Douglass is the recipient of a multimillion-dollar federal school improvement grant to help reverse persistently low student performance. This is sure to get a close look by federal education officials. But even more immediate is the consequence for Douglass students and teachers. Teaching and learning can't come to a halt despite the uncertainty, tension and leadership changes.
The trio charged with stabilizing the school has a tough job. The stakes are high. Nothing about the allegations and investigation changes the reality that students at Douglass face an uphill academic challenge. The school's most recent average ACT score — 14.9 — is devastatingly low even though the school is testing an increased number of students. Only one other school in Oklahoma posted a lower average. That sort of statistic is why the school is under the state's watchful eye and why it got the federal grant.
It's impossible to overstate how important it is that Douglass' students — present and future — get an education that prepares them for the future. The statistics are already against many Douglass students. One of those appointed to the new Douglass leadership team is Joyce Henderson, a former student of the late civil rights activist Clara Luper and a retired Oklahoma City Public Schools educator with nearly four decades of experience.
If anyone has a vision of what Douglass needs — a future that equals and pays homage to its incredibly important past — Henderson does. As a segregated school and even as a fledgling integrated school, Douglass produced some of our city's most storied personalities, from football players to judges to entrepreneurs to city leaders.
Oklahoma City needs all of its schools to achieve excellence. But Douglass' unique place in our city's history, and its importance to the northeast Oklahoma City community, is unparalleled. Its students deserve a restoration befitting its proud history.