Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu is moving forward with plans to bolster one key department and revamp another in hopes of improving the district’s poor academic standing.
Neu said the district’s curriculum department is too small to be effective and lacks leadership in several core subject areas.
“There is very little curriculum support here,” he said. “I knew that we were not heavily staffed, but I did not know the degree to which we were understaffed.”
Neu said the district is in the process of building a curriculum department to rival that of his former school district in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way.
That district is about half the size of the Oklahoma City district but had two to three times the staff dedicated to course development, according to Neu.
Aurora Lora, the Harvard-educated administrator Neu hired to develop, implement and supervise district curriculum, said she was surprised at how poorly staffed the department was.
“I have never seen a district with such a small curriculum department,” she said. “I definitely think it (has) contributed to the lack of support for teachers and principals in terms of curriculum help.”
Lora previously worked for school districts in Seattle and Portland that were comparable in size to Oklahoma City.
“They had much larger curriculum departments and had all the core areas covered,” she said
To counter the deficiency, Lora said the district is seeking to hire a secondary literacy coordinator, elementary and secondary math coordinators, elementary and secondary science coordinators and a K-12 social studies coordinator.
Lora, the district’s associate superintendent of student achievement and accountability, also wants to add an advanced academics coordinator to oversee programs for gifted and talented students that include advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs.
“We’re also interested in adding someone for world languages,” she said.
Also in the works are new pacing guides for teachers that are aligned to state standards for every grade level, Lora said.
“It’s basically the road map to what each teacher should be teaching for each subject and grade level throughout the year,” she said.
Once new coordinators are in place, they will work with teams of teachers to develop the guides, which Lora said will combine Oklahoma’s Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS standards, with some elements of Common Core “to make the standards a little bit more rigorous.”
Together they will decide on common assessments, instructional materials and intervention programs.
Lora said she would like to have the new guides completed by the end of the year. Lora also wants to develop a district scorecard with grade-level goals reading and math along with attendance and discipline.
Teacher development is a key area of concern for Neu, who told school board members Monday the district is going to have to modernize practices for recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers to be competitive.
“We’ve got to offer incentives to relocate teachers from other states,” he said. “We’ve got to attract them ... tell them that we’re going to grow them as professionals. We have to pay them a stipend to get them here.”
Neu said the district has to consider restructuring compensation packages in order to attract and keep teachers and principals. Professional growth, he added, is “absolutely critical” to teacher retention.
As of Friday, the district had 147 vacancies, including 112 at elementary schools.
Shannon Freeman, the district’s director of recruitment, deployment and retention, said she and her staff are scrambling to fill vacancies before school starts Aug. 4. The district is reaching out to retirees and college graduates and processing new hires daily, Freeman said.
“I think this (will) certainly be managed better in the future with an increase in teacher salaries and the creation of relocation salaries,” she said.
We’ve got to offer incentives to relocate teachers from other states. We’ve got to attract them ... tell them that we’re going to grow them as professionals. We have to pay them a stipend to get them here.”
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent