Something rare happened last month at the Oklahoma City School Board meeting. Three incumbents were replaced by three newly elected members. Only once every four years are three seats on this eight-member board up for election. Even then, at least one incumbent usually retains office.
Fresh energy and fresh eyes should be good for the board. But, what to do? Which way to go? How do we lift the academic performance of 43,000 children, 90 percent of whom live at or near poverty level, and approximately 35 percent of whom speak Spanish at home while being instructed in English at school? On average one-third of all students don't finish the school year where they began; a third of those who do, do not return to that school the following year.
What to do? The school district should and will pursue more public/private partnerships. Only when the city rises up to support the district and its children with time, money and care — at unprecedented levels — will the district achieve the success for which we all yearn.
Good examples abound. When the district began moving to all-day prekindergarten, Inasmuch Foundation bought the furniture to equip the new classrooms. By next school year, the district will have brought 215 Teach For America (TFA) teachers to the district, with each committed to stay a minimum of two years. The district pays their entry-level salaries, plus $4,000 each to TFA. The private sector eventually will contribute nearly $5 million to make it happen.
The new downtown elementary school, scheduled to open Aug. 1, 2014, will be governed by a board selected by two equal partners: the district and a nonprofit formed by community leaders. The McLaughlin Foundation and the Welker Foundation are teaming with the district to re-establish and fund middle school athletic fields. The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools provides training for teachers who want to secure national certification and contributes the application fee for each. It also maintains a free warehouse where teachers can secure supplies. Devon, Chesapeake, Sand Ridge, OPUBCO and others permit employees to tutor students during working hours.
In spite of these and other efforts, much remains to be done. The state appropriated more money three years ago for common education than was appropriated this year, yet the district has 3,000 more children today. Public/private partnerships are limited only by time, money and imagination. Why shouldn't each child have a mentor who encourages him once a week? Why shouldn't there be a privately funded endowment to pay signing bonuses to outstanding teachers?
Why shouldn't more private entities present enrichment programs in our schools? And why shouldn't every retiree say, “OK, now I can tutor at least one child”?
If not now, when? If not us, who?
Horning is vice chairman of the Oklahoma City School Board. Those interested in volunteer opportunities with Oklahoma City Public Schools can call 405-587-0234.