The "Pathway to Greatness" plan for Oklahoma City Public Schools is unclear and risks catastrophic results.
By Cate Wilde
This afternoon at 3 pm, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel will make a recommendation to the School Board of which of the three proposals of the “Pathway to Greatness” should be implemented before the start of the 2019-2020 school year. All three pathways include at least 14 school closures, one as many as 18, most of which are elementary schools. The feeder patterns from elementary to middle to high school will see disruption, and some will shift fifth grade from elementary to middle school.
The three proposals were devised by several entities: an auditing firm known as ADG, one group of “trailblazers”, and another group of “navigators”. The “trailblazers” are a group of 15 individuals who serve as educators and principals, and the “navigators” are 18 individuals appointed to the committee by members of the school board. There were apparently many more than three proposals, but they were narrowed down to what are now designated as options A, B, and C within the overall “Pathway to Greatness”.
Community meetings have been held in different schools across the city, at which Superintendent McDaniel gave his presentation and listened to feedback from parents, teachers, and community members. While there were a handful of individuals who spoke favorably of the overhaul, most expressed serious concerns.
Some prominent education advocates have remarked that these concerned citizens are simply “afraid of change”. However, it is not only reasonable but necessary for members of a community to keep a watchful eye on the sweeping changes made by a powerful few.
A school is not just a place to hold children while parents are at work. It is the greenhouse in which our future as a society is grown. It is the pumping heart of the neighborhood, channeling the flow of our community’s circulatory system. It is its own microeconomy, one in which knowledge and growth are the most valuable currencies. A school draws people of all walks of life together and gives neighbors a reason to get to know one another. Schools are sacred places in a society crumbling under polarization and ignorance.
And yet, it is unequivocally true that Oklahoma City Public Schools have been suffering for years. We’re low-ranked, underfunded, overcrowded, and falling into disrepair. It’s probably a safe assumption that everyone who has had experience within our school system would agree that many big changes are needed.
This “Pathway to Greatness” was drawn up as a bold attempt to revitalize our school system. At least, that’s what we’ve been told. I don’t doubt the sincerity of those desires, but with so many key questions lacking answers, one must wonder if there is some ulterior motive behind these sweeping closures. The expensive videos and presentations put together for this proposal, along with salesman McDaniel making his pitch every night at the community meetings, not to mention the use of the distinctly Orwellian verbiage “trade-ups”, all leave a sour taste in the mouth of anyone who has dealt with shady car sales, timeshares, stock fraud, and pyramid schemes. Something is amiss.
For example, no concrete budget has been established. The dollar amount of what the closures and restructuring of staff and transportation will cost the community have not been made public. The superintendent insists that no numbers can be set until the plan is already decided and implemented because of unforeseeable variables. However, it has been confirmed that it will generate a one-time gain of roughly $4-6 million. For perspective, that’s less than 4% of the taxpayer dollars our city spent on its brand new streetcars.
Secondly, the speed at which this plan has been pushed to vote is concerning. The site went live on January 22nd. Community meetings were held the final week of January. The superintendent’s final recommendation will be made today (February 21), followed by another series of community meetings (with no Q&A allowed), and then the final vote will be made on March 4th. If approved, the plan will be implemented the next day with the hope that the full-scale overhaul will be complete before the 2019 fall semester. Completely changing the structure of our school system warrants more than a couple months’ consideration. A rushed plan is bound to be subject to flaws.
Thirdly, the plan to transport all the children to their new schools has not been fully developed. We already face a shortage of buses and bus drivers. This will no doubt put a greater strain on an already strained system. Some parents expressed at the community meetings that, under the proposed changes, their children will endure a 7-mile bus ride to a school across the city, while their child’s former school sits just one block from their house.
Finally, there is a shroud of mystery over which entities are interested in occupying the school buildings once they are empty. Some vague industries have been named, such as dental offices and community centers, but the specifics of who and what are kept conspicuously unnamed. Many parents chose their neighborhood based on the school within it, and now they will have no say or knowledge of what will take its place. There is also no clear indication which buildings charter schools (like KIPP) will be offered. Charter schools were the only entities to to see an increase in funding during the midterm
This seems less like the Pathway to Greatness and more like the Pathway to Privatization. This methodology is extremely effective and can be seen in many different industries, such as prisons, hospitals, and education. First, the industry is starved of public funding, which begins its plummet into disrepair and dysfunction. Then, it is shamed for poor performance. Alternatives are sought. Meanwhile, private entities make gains and buys on the sidelines, such as the construction of a private prison -- or a charter school. Then, because the public prison or school is so beyond repair, it is forced to close, and all of its occupants are shuffled into the new private or semi-private entity. The alternative structure is not subject to all of the regulations or accountability of the public sector (such as collective bargaining agreements for teacher pay), but still funded by taxpayer dollars (and potentially donations from private interests). It does not seem a coincidence that while 14-18 public schools are on the chopping block, Epic Virtual Charter School (under OSBI investigation for fraud) donated a large amount in the last election cycle, and has just established a brand new headquarters in 50 Penn Place to accommodate its skyrocketing enrollment.
While it is undeniable that OKC public schools need great changes, closing nearly 20% of them over one summer break is not the answer. The school board still has the power to veto this proposal, but they are seeking community feedback. At this link are all of the school board members and their contact information. We urge you to contact your representative and ask them to vote no on March 4th. The future of our children deserves careful consideration and scrutiny.