Former teacher: Fingers crossed for OKCPS plan
As someone who comments on public education in general and Oklahoma City’s public schools in particular, former district teacher John Thompson focuses largely on students. His hope is that they’ll be better served following the district’s pending realignment.
Writing for the website NonDoc, Thompson, who spent 18 years teaching in the district, noted that he went back and forth throughout the planning for “Pathway to Greatness,” the district’s moniker for its overhaul. Ultimately, he came to believe that “most closures and the concrete ‘trade-ups’ that they will allow are necessary.”
Under the plan, the district will close 15 schools and reconfigure or relocate 17 others. Savings realized from making better use of the district’s school buildings are to fund improvements throughout the district. These include increasing the number of schools that have three or more classrooms per grade, allowing for collaboration among teachers; making full-time counselors available at all elementary schools; adding physical education, art and music classes, and more STEM offerings.
While these are positives, Thompson writes that he believes the district, which is implementing the plan in the 2019-20 school year, overreached. “The question is whether the possible missteps that went along with the P2G process will undermine further progress, or whether we can unite and build on the plan’s strengths,” he writes.
Citing an analysis of school closure efforts elsewhere around the country, Thompson says teaching and learning are likely to decline next year, and the closures will increase student “churn” that is detrimental in learning. He wonders whether the transition period will prompt an exodus of patrons or a short-term downturn that leads to further growth.
He’s also concerned about creation of middle schools housing fifth- through eighth-graders, something he said could be problematic. A top priority “must be the physical and psychological safety of elementary kids who will be attending middle schools that have troubled histories,” Thompson says.
The short turnaround time — the new school year begins in mid-August, just six months after the board’s approval of the plan — has him anxious as well. “The closures should not have been used as an opportunity to adopt a range of new initiatives …” he argues.
Thompson acknowledges that his time in the district made him “risk averse,” as he saw incremental gains in schools get adversely impacted by “ill-conceived and/or rushed” policy initiatives. On the other hand, he also writes that while he’s uneasy with the rapid timeline, “We should also agree that our kids don’t have time to wait for adults to fight out their differences over school improvement.”
And, Thompson offered this: With the district’s overhaul now approved and underway, “I hope we can all take a deep breath, calm ourselves down and act deliberatively in order to improve our schools.” That’s sound advice.