The turnout wasn’t big and neither was the pushback at Northwest Classen High School on Monday night.
A plan by Oklahoma City school district officials to alleviate overcrowding by moving hundreds of predominantly Hispanic students from southside schools to northside schools — including Northwest Classen and Taft Middle School — was met with some concern but welcomed by others in the crowd of about two dozen teachers and others employed by the district.
“They’re used to a segregated type of environment, mostly Hispanic,” said Taft Middle School Assistant Prinicpal Delia Marand. “I think it’s very important to expose them to a diverse group of students here (on the northwest side) because that is the real world.”
Others, like Taft history teacher Jon Mulzet, said the addition of more than 200 students would compromise the smallest class sizes he’s seen in a decade.
“Smaller class sizes do make a difference,” Mulzet said. “Smaller class sizes do enable a teacher to give more individual attention to that kid. We can be more innovative in our teaching.”
Under the proposal, 224 students projected to attend U.S. Grant High School, 5016 S Pennsylvania Ave., instead would attend Northwest Classen, 2801 NW 27. Another 169 students projected to attend Capitol Hill High School, 500 SW 36, would attend Douglass Mid-High School, 900 Martin Luther King Ave.
Both southside high schools are full, and Northwest Classen and Douglass are operating below capacity, according to district documents.
Interim Superintendent Dave Lopez said overcrowding at southside schools is “almost at a crisis point,” but assured those in attendance that the district is exploring alternatives to relocating students in the fall.
Among the other options being considered: Building as many as 50 additional classrooms at Capitol Hill and Grant; adding portable classrooms; having high school seniors attend in shifts to free up classroom space; and having students go to school online.
“We’re going to need more construction at southside schools,” he said.
The reaction Monday night was markedly different than the one two weeks ago at U.S. Grant High School, where parents whose children face transfer blasted the proposal during a meeting attended by more than 300 people.
They expressed concern about uprooting their children and having them bused to their new schools. Other parents said they worried about their child’s safety or feared they would lose interest in school and drop out.
The school board was set to consider the proposal March 31, but the concerns prompted district officials to table the vote and explore other options. The district will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Douglass to gain additional community input.
Middle schools affected by the plan include Roosevelt, Webster and Jefferson, which feed into Capitol Hill, and Taft, which feeds into Northwest Classen. Taft would gain 167 students that otherwise would attend Jefferson, Roosevelt or Webster. Those schools stand to lose a projected 229 students to northside schools, officials said.
Heather Sparks, a Taft math teacher, said she expects the transition to be less stressful for southside students who relocate to schools on the northwest side of Oklahoma City.
“There’s a lot more Hispanic families here, in our community and at Taft, so there’s a comfort level there,” Sparks said. “They’re going to have cousins there and friends and relatives from church and that kind of thing.”
Erica Alvarez attended both community meetings. A college recruiter and district volunteer, she expressed concern for English Language Learners who may be moved to Douglass, whose student body is predominantly black.
“My concern is are these students going to have the support that they need in the classroom,” Alvarez said. “Do we have enough certified English language teachers? Are they going to get that instruction?”