February 24, 2024

Discussing ClassenSAS Future at Northeast Academy in OKCPS

Author: Wesley Fryer
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Today Shelly and I spent 2 1/2 hours at Northeast Academy in Oklahoma City Public Schools, attending an OKCPS sponsored information event for parents, students and families. On January 22, 2019, OKCPS district officials presented the “Pathway to Greatness” proposal at the monthly board meeting, which includes 3 different options for closing, consolidating, and relocating multiple schools in the district. As a point of reference, OKCPS currently serves 46,000 students and after these proposed closures, I think the number of campuses would be 86. It’s a large, urban school district, and our largest in Oklahoma, with tons of challenges. See my post from last night, “Killing Classen SAS in Oklahoma City Public Schools,” for more background and opinions about these proposals, and particularly how they are likely to impact Classen School of Advanced Studies.

While there are some differences in options A, B and C of the “pathway,” all of them include splitting ClassenSAS’s current and historic “mid-high” model, and over a period of years seeking to double the enrollment at both ClassenSAS Middle School (located in the current ClassenSAS building) and at the new ClassenSAS high school, in the current Northeast Academy building. I live-tweeted the informational meeting today, and archived those tweets in a “twitter moment” I’m embedding below. Before including those observations and comments, I’ll summarize my takeaways, perceptions and recommended advocacy steps for those of us concerned about ClassenSAS, its students and families:

  1. The most important question we need to ask OKCPS board members and the leadership team is this: Do we want to replicate the success of ClassenSAS (which is by all measures the most successful school in OKCPS today) or do we want to potentially break/kill the school in an experiment which has no precedent, peer model in another part of the United States, or research basis to support it?
  2. School size and class sizes MATTER. The mid-high, application based model of ClassenSAS works today and has worked historically, empowering students to pursue their passion for the arts and their academic talents through the International Baccalaureate program. OF COURSE we should all be interested in replicating the success and opportunities offered by ClassenSAS for many more students in Oklahoma City. Replicating this successful model does NOT mean splitting it into two different schools, and moving the high school into a larger facility without well planned PRIOR investments of staff, facilities and resources.
  3. OKCPS families and taxpayers deserve opportunities for REAL dialog about these issues and proposals, and the chance to have meaningful input into them… not merely chances to vent frustration and listen to district officials defend decisions which have already been made / are already set in stone. As presented to the OKCPS school board on January 22, all 3 “pathway options” (A, B and C) include splitting up ClassenSAS and relocating the school to Northeast Academy. At this point, whether or not that is going to happen is not even up for discussion or debate within our community. This is a poor decision by the board and by district leadership, and should be reconsidered.
  4. Offer our Oklahoma City community a proposal to truly replicate ClassenSAS’s successful model. As I shared in my post last night, “Killing Classen SAS in Oklahoma City Public Schools,” our family moved from Edmond into the OKCPS district specifically because we wanted our children to have the chance to attend ClassenSAS. All three of them did, and two of them graduated, after spending 14 years of their lives (7 each) within the walls of ClassenSAS. There are so many ways to measure the success of a school, that I hesitate to mention just one statistic – but if you look at the number of scholarships won by the ClassenSAS Class of 2018 last year, it was absolutely incredible. Mind blowing. Kids graduating from ClassenSAS are among the smartest and best-prepared students in our Oklahoma City metro area for the challenges of life… including college… and as a community, we should INSIST and DEMAND that our elected school leaders seek to REPLICATE the success of ClassenSAS, not experiment in a rash manner which risks “breaking” many of the key ingredients which have come together to make ClassenSAS a shining gem of light and goodness within our city and school district.
  5. Ask Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt (@davidfholt) to take a seat at the table in all these discussions and deliberations. As our mayor, he has a huge interest and responsibility to see that our school district as well as larger business community develops in healthy, sustainable ways that serve our shared interests.
  6. What is the role (if any) of those advocating for more charter schools in Oklahoma City and in Oklahoma generally, in this “Pathway to Greatness” proposal? That is both a challenge and an opportunity to local journalists reading this post to investigate and report on further. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I would be incredibly mad as a parent, homeowner, and taxpayer if the OKCPS board announced tomorrow that they would be closing our local elementary school down the street (Quail Creek) and a year later it re-opened as a charter school – either private or public. If that happened, I’d feel like I’d been deceived by this “Pathways to Greatness” proposal. I’d feel like it was misnamed, and should have been called, “Pathways to More Charter Schools in Oklahoma.” I am very supportive of multiple school models: Both charter schools and private schools can be wonderful and meet individual student learning needs in ways public schools cannot because of a variety of constraints. Positive Tomorrows, where my wife taught for 4 years, is an example that comes to mind. Public schools are part of the bedrock of our culture, society, economy, and way of life in Oklahoma and the United States, however, and we need to be clear about the true rationale and reasons for decisions our elected leaders make with our public tax dollars set aside for education.

I want to place faith in our elected OKCPS leaders, their abilities and willingness to both listen to and respond to constituents, and their collective drive to make decisions which best meet the needs of our community. I’m hopeful in upcoming days and weeks to have opportunities for further face-to-face dialog with others in our community about these proposals, including some board members who I have and will contact directly.

I will close with a quick story before embedding the tweets I shared at today’s information meeting. I had an opportunity to visit and present at a conference in Cairo, Egypt, in November 2017. I not only learned a lot of important things traveling to Egypt, I also had sustained opportunities to reflect on ideals like democracy, responsive government, freedom of expression, and the Arab Spring. I visited and walked in Tahrir Square, and talked with Egyptians who had participated in the Arab Spring protests there in 2011… rendering aid to those who were beaten, shot, and abused in other ways by the security forces of Hosni Mubarak.

Why do I mention these things in the context of proposed changes to our public schools in Oklahoma City? The reason is that the tools for communication and organizing which we have right now to use and put to work in the United States, mainly via social media, are unprecedented in human history. Without Facebook and Twitter, Egypt would not have had a revolution in 2011. The outcome of that revolution, I would argue today, has not been wonderful for human rights, democracy, and freedom of expression in the short term… but I both hope and pray (and predict) the last chapter in that story has not been written.

For us today, facing proposed changes in a very democratic and ostensibly open political process like our public school system in Oklahoma… We each have opportunities as well as choices to make about how we engage with our elected officials, school officials, and each other regarding these proposals. Has “the train left the station” for OKCPS when it comes to the “Pathway to Greatness” proposals? Will district educators be forced to break the incredibly successful ClassenSAS school into two parts, and move the high school into another building without any prior investment in faculty, facilities, or resources? I don’t know. After today’s meeting, my perception of this answer is sadly, yes.

But that is not the way representative government and democracy has to work, and arguably should work, in the United States of America in 2019. If you are an Oklahoma City taxpayer, if you are a parent, guardian or grandparent of a child in Oklahoma City Public Schools, then you have both a right and a responsibility to speak into these proposals and decisions.

Contact our OKCPS Board Members and let them know what you think. They were elected to do many things, but one of the most basic is to LISTEN TO CONSTITUENTS. If we remain silent while our elected officials take drastic actions that may potentially break / irreparably damage the most successful school in our entire city (ClassenSAS), then we will have ourselves to blame.

Talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to your classmates, talk to your neighbors. Go to PTA/PTO meetings, go to district information meetings, connect on social media, seek to ENGAGE IN DIALOG. This is not a time for shouting, this is a time for listening and a time for sharing.

Let your voice be heard. And may our elected officials listen to the people.

ClassenSAS is an incredible school and a powerful school model which deserves to be thoughtfully and carefully replicated, not rashly broken into pieces without committed investment.

Together, let’s save ClassenSAS from destruction.

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