New OKC superintendent's compromise plan on KIPP will benefit students


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With its decision to approve a modified expansion of KIPP Reach Academy, the Oklahoma City School Board chose to compromise — a practice all too rare in these politically charged times. It’s a move that at its core will help children.

KIPP Reach has done tremendous work with predominantly low-income middle school students (grades 5 through 8) during its 14 years at F.D. Moon Academy, 1901 NE 13. The school’s founder and principal, Tracy McDaniel, wanted to see Martin Luther King Elementary converted into a charter school, with KIPP expanding to serve 600 additional students in prekindergarten through eighth grade at MLK, and eventually using space at Douglass Mid-High to serve high school students.

McDaniel and other backers of the KIPP expansion plan noted that Moon is in disrepair and full, while MLK and Douglass are both in excellent shape and have plenty of unused space. Their goal is to give more children access to KIPP’s successful model while making better use of existing city property. They also offered to share best practices with teachers from the traditional schools.

Yet this was a controversial proposal in northeast Oklahoma City, understandably so. MLK is a wonderful, historic building, and Douglass High School has a rich history. Some parents, teachers and others were concerned about the possibility of existing students in those two schools being squeezed out by the charter school’s expansion.

A series of board-approved community meetings failed to assuage skeptics and critics, in part because the structure of the meetings didn’t allow extensive back-and-forth between them and McDaniel. The KIPP proposal originally was to be considered by the board at its June meeting, but McDaniel asked that it be pulled from the agenda. He used the extra time to gather additional support from community leaders and further educate new Superintendent Aurora Lora and board members about his plans.

Ultimately, Lora recommended that KIPP be allowed to relocate its current students to MLK for this school year, then have a task force determine where KIPP will open an elementary school in 2017 and a high school the following year. The board voted 7-1 Monday night to accept that idea.

The KIPP elementary and high schools may or may not wind up at MLK or at Douglass, Lora said. One common theme she heard from parents was “that there needs to be more support for neighborhood schools,” she said.

This plan “gives families an ability to have options,” Lora said, “but it still values what I heard from the families of the neighborhood schools — that we have not done enough to support them.”

McDaniel will be able to move his middle school students out of their rundown building into MLK, and his timetable for eventually providing more students a KIPP education remains on schedule.

“I would say it’s a win for children,” he said Tuesday. “When you have a charter school coming together with a district, this is not normal in the country. You’ve got a neighborhood elementary school, a district partner, and you’re going to raise the academic performance in my community. … It’s a win for the city.”

Just a few weeks into the job full time, Lora could have advocated for the status quo and suggested revisiting this emotional issue another time. That she didn’t is encouraging and a sign of strong leadership. Kudos to her and to all involved for finding a way forward.