Classes begin Wednesday for students in the Oklahoma City School District. To get ready for the start of the school year, school district Superintendent Karl Springer sat down to answer questions from readers of The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com users.
Q: MAPS for Kids promised that “Rolls-Royce-quality” alternative schools be expanded so that no troubled student would “perpetually disrupt class because alternative schools are full.” If resources could be made available, would you try to honor that promise?
A: The issue there with alternative schools — there are a couple of camps on that. One would be that any child that's got some kind of behavioral problem that doesn't perform in the classroom in our traditional setting, that we would come up with some sort of building with concertina wire around it; we're not into that. What we've got to be able to do is we've got to be able to take our alternative education program and not let it become a parallel education program to what we're doing. We've already seen what happens when you do that in special education. Expectation for the children needs to be high. The expectations for performance and for what they're capable of doing need to remain high. What we've got to be able to do is have our alternative education program be something that is easy to access and fluid, so that they can get in and out of alternative education program quickly. ... What we've got to be able to do is not write them off. ... We've got to look at the potential that they've got.
Q: Can you explain the challenges and opportunities for some of the smaller schools in the district, like Edgemere Elementary? Is it financially effective to keep those schools open compared to the typical larger schools?
A: I think there are good schools that are big schools and good schools that are little. Edgemere is a good example of what happens when the community wraps their arms around a little school. Over the last couple of years, we've seen dramatic improvement in Edgemere. We have large elementary schools that have wonderful facilities and have that same kind of attitude. Chavez Elementary School kind of falls into that category, on the south side of our school district. I think that, really, the issue isn't so much the size of the school. The issue is what's happening inside of each one of those classrooms and what happens with the community — how does the community support the school? How are the parents and the community collaborating to make that a good place? The bigger question there that everybody wants to talk about a lot of times is, “What about school consolidation?” Well, this is the largest school district in the state of Oklahoma. We have our share of problems. If you wanted to consolidate all the schools in the state, with 650,000 kids in the state, you could probably do it with less than 20 school districts. The issue is what happens inside the classroom. The most important thing about a school is the teacher that's standing in front of that class. Teachers are what make schools good.
Q: As budgets constrain, how do you decide where growth can come from in the schools? Have you pushed forth any of the national trends such as healthier foods, more physical education, increased arts incorporation?
A: Those are all things that we know are important. The longer school day — it took us about 100 years to go from six hours to six hours and 20 minutes — that's one thing that's happened just recently. That's been a good thing. The continuous learning calendar — trying to make it possible to have time during the school year to be able to remediate children on a one-to-one or smaller kind of setting. The other parts of this thing that I think really are important have to do with just really looking at what is the best return on investment, and make sure that that investment is in the children and not in some program just for the sake of a program.