School advisory board head: OKC schools deserve the attention of all

NewsOK.com July 1, 2015

Jennifer Monies PhotoI didn’t grow up in Oklahoma City. I don’t have memories of a desolate downtown after business hours or neighborhood whispers about brothels that apparently once existed walking distance from my house in the Gatewood Historic District. I only know an Oklahoma City with an NBA franchise, a bustling downtown park and a diverse local restaurant scene. Oklahoma City rivals any place I would want to raise my family. Almost nowhere else in the nation could I live within the urban core for the price and space we have. I live, work and play largely within a 5-mile radius.

But everything Oklahoma City has going for it is at risk. There is one more critical piece to Oklahoma City’s renaissance and our continued success and growth depends on it — improving its public schools.

In the 1970s and ’80s, thousands of young families left inner-Oklahoma City for the suburbs in search of better schools, and found them in Edmond, Putnam City, Deer Creek and Moore. The young professionals moving into the city today, by and large, want something different for their kids. At least I know I do. I want my son and soon-to-be-born daughter to grow up in a school where not everyone looks like them. I want them to be able to walk to a nearby ice cream shop and to consider the downtown Myriad Gardens and future Core to Shore park their play space. I want them to eat at local restaurants, shop at local stores and attend local concerts, all close to home.

I also want them to be able to attend the elementary school around the corner from our house. Of the 55 non-charter elementary schools in the district, 41 were given either a D or F on the annual report card issued by the state Department of Education in 2014. That’s 75 percent of all OKCPS elementary schools. Though MAPS for Kids construction continues, our schools continue to languish. There are many reasons, but we know from the few successful examples in OKCPS that any challenges can be overcome with high expectations and strong leadership. And we know from examples in other large cities that students from all economic and ethnic backgrounds can be drawn back into the city school system if it offers innovation.

If you love Oklahoma City like I do, and want to see its continued success, we must all turn our attention to our inner-city public schools. We must dare to believe that OKCPS can be more than an education option of last resort. This will require radical change, but it’s not unprecedented. There are examples all over the country of how inner-city school systems have reinvented themselves.

As a community, we must do this not just because we don’t want the young professionals to flee for the suburbs as in years past, but because every student living in the Oklahoma City school district deserves the best education possible.

Monies is chairwoman of the Gatewood Elementary School Community Advisory Board and executive director of the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative.

Posted in The Oklahoman on July 1, 2015