The superintendent of the Oklahoma City School District and the city's school board president announced Wednesday they would fight any takeover of struggling schools by state officials.
“Changing the strategic direction at this time could be fatal to our district and not good to the students of our school system,” Superintendent Karl Springer said during a morning news conference at the state Capitol.
The state Education Department received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act earlier this month. The waiver enabled the state to develop a new accountability model and a wide range of leniencies from the tough educational model, which has ruled since 2002.
One portion of the state's waiver allows the Education Department to hire private companies to run failing public schools that are unable to demonstrate the ability to improve.
“We will resist any takeover by the state Department of Education of our schools,” Oklahoma City School Board Chairman Angela Monson said. “We do have a plan. We do plan to implement and execute that plan. We stand ready to work with the state Department of Education, but we need the same flexibility that they will give to either themselves or a private firm.”
Damon Gardenhire, spokesman for the Education Department, said no decision has been made about which schools, if any, will be taken over by the state.
The waiver requires school districts to submit documents demonstrating their capacity for improvement, which will then be judged by state officials.
“There are kids in the first, second, third grade,” Gardenhire said. “We can't afford to have them in chronically failing schools or having them going into chronically failing schools.”
State officials agree that schools should have flexibility to succeed, but politics shouldn't grind the process to a halt, he said.
Federal law has allowed state officials to take over and run failing schools for several years, but such laws haven't been used yet, Gardenhire said.
There are 24 schools in the Oklahoma City School District that are labeled as the lowest performers in the state; those schools could be subject to takeover. Of those schools, six are charter schools run and funded independently of the district.
Monson said having charter schools on the list just goes to show there's no magic bullet to fix education, including hiring a private company.
Monson asked that the state give her school district the time and flexibility to implement the reforms identified by the local school board.
She said specifically they want flexibility in spending federal dollars, having longer school days, instituting after-school programs and dismissing ineffective teachers.
“When the federal government said that changes in the No Child Left Behind law were going to occur giving greater flexibility to states to ensure the academic success of children, we were all very excited,” Monson said. “Unfortunately, that excitement has turned into some great concern for local school districts.”