Oklahoma City depends on its schools to produce the next generation of civic, community and business leaders. Not all students will reach that level, but their education should prepare them as though they will. Collectively, our schools aren't there yet. The measuring stick is largely irrelevant. Report cards, ACT scores and dropout, graduation and college remediation rates all show that the work is far from over.
Although many of our schools are struggling, some schools across the district are succeeding. What those schools have in common is parental involvement and sustained community investment.
The word “investment” may conjure images of bond issues and state appropriations. Indeed, crucial questions need to be asked about the level of fiscal support for schools. But that's not the only kind of investment. Our children also need investments of our time, talent and resources.
What does that look like? Money is helpful in providing educational experiences students might not otherwise get, as well as equipping them with the supplies they need for success. With community support, The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools has sent thousands of students to academic and artistic competitions and put more than $1 million in school supplies into classrooms.
The students also need us to rally around them and cheer when they do well, whether in academics, sports or fine arts. They need caring adults such as those at Tinker Federal Credit Union who are guiding and supporting the John Marshall High School students who are operating an in-school credit union branch. Or the corporate volunteers from Dell who guide and encourage the Capitol Hill High School robotics team.
No less important, Oklahoma City residents should invest their time and energy in educating themselves about the candidates for school board and about educational issues in the Legislature. They should decide whether the policies of the largest school district in Oklahoma are reflective of the right priorities, whether schools successfully place a prepared teacher in every classroom, and whether teachers have the appropriate support and resources to provide the best education possible for each student.
The road ahead for our children and our schools won't be smooth. Thousands of Oklahoma City's children face barriers in simply getting to school every morning. They might be hungry. They might be angry because of chaos at home. They might be on their second or third school of the year and feeling disconnected. As a community of caring adults, we must either go around or go over whatever barriers necessary in order to ensure our children the best possible chance at success.
The most important message we can send is that no matter what the A-F grade a school might be assigned, that grade doesn't reflect what we believe of the children and teachers in that school. Oklahoma City's children need the adults of this community to continue to hope for them, believe in them and invest in them.
Tolbert is chairman of the board of directors of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Dickinson is its president and CEO.