Oklahoma City Councilman Pete White's eyes light up and he sits a little straighter when he talks about his reading buddy, a first-grader at a city elementary school.
“Her name is Rebeca Navarro,” White said. “I look forward to it every week. She's always waiting in the hall, smiling, eager to read to me.”
White meets with the girl every Monday as part of a program pairing city employees with first-graders at Heronville Elementary School once a week for reading time. It's one product of a joint task force involving White, fellow Councilman Patrick Ryan, and Oklahoma City Public Schools board members Lyn Watson and Angela Monson that looks for partnerships between the city and school district to help students.
The task force started meeting about a year ago and meets once a month, alternating between Oklahoma City Hall and the school district headquarters.
Its meetings attract city and district officials and staff from Mayor Mick Cornett and Superintendent Karl Springer on down and result in high-powered brainstorming to find ways the city and district can team up.
Springer said it's the only partnership of its kind in Oklahoma, where cities aren't involved in management or funding of school districts. He has attended the meetings and is a big cheerleader for the task force and the spirit of cooperation.
“When we meet, we're one staff. We're there as problem solvers,” Springer said. “That kind of togetherness and that kind of resolve, that we're going to do this together, it's just so huge.”
The task force members and gathered staff and officials talk about a variety of topics, from marketing to sports and transportation. Some of the most promising ideas involve merging aspects of the district and city bus systems to save on costs, a management audit by the city to help find inefficiencies and getting more community organizations to use schools as meeting points to increase the sense of collective responsibility.