THREE new members of the Oklahoma City School Board are about to learn something their predecessors learned the hard way: The job is more difficult and change is harder to come by than they ever imagined.
The learning curve for school board members is dreadfully steep, but that's especially true in a district like Oklahoma City. Looking out for the interests of more than 43,000 students and more than 2,000 teachers spread out across more than 70 schools is daunting.
New board Chairwoman Lynne Hardin and new District 1 and 2 representatives Bob Hammack and Justin Ellis will be seated Monday night. Each brings to the board table different levels of experience. Each of their perspectives is valuable, and they have the opportunity to quickly contribute to moving the district forward.
During the campaign, Hardin was critical of the district's strategic plan. We're interested to see how her criticism translates to proposed changes as the new board chair. The district has some serious personnel challenges. During the campaign, incumbent Chairwoman Angela Monson said each of the district's high schools is short at least one math teacher. Vacancies are often filled with substitutes who rotate after 20 days, she said. A glance at the district's full vacancy list and routine personnel reports paints an even more troubling picture.
Oklahoma City's students need and deserve great teachers in their classrooms who stay all school year. The board should work with Superintendent Karl Springer to look at what plans are in place to make that happen.
While the district has touted its changes to the school calendar and the adoption of career-themed academies at the high schools, those reforms will fall short without more stability within the teaching ranks. Ed Allen, chief of the teachers' union, has indicated his willingness to work with the district in myriad areas. Human resources would be a great place to start.
With budget challenges at the state level in recent years and the potential for federal cuts on the horizon, it's also imperative the new board members get up to speed quickly on budget matters. School finance is full of twists and turns and restrictions and mandates. This board simply doesn't have the luxury of a honeymoon period. Too much is at stake.
We're reminded of the words Allen wrote in an Oklahoman op-ed just two months ago: “Oklahoma City must come to terms with the fact that the school district is incapable of improving on its own. Our patrons, residents, faith partners, business and city leaders, along with the union, must come together and move our district forward. … Coming together as a community will be difficult … but not nearly as difficult and painful as standing by while another generation of our children aren't given every opportunity to become productive citizens and achieve their dreams.”
At the beginning, middle and end of every policy is the future of a child. It's no secret that 90 percent of the children in Oklahoma City Public Schools are in families living at or near the poverty lines. Many of them live in violence and instability. They simply don't know another way to live.
A good education is their best hope for breaking the cycle of poverty. With every decision they make, school board members should reflect on that truth.