Oklahoma City School Board approves modified charter school expansion

ByTim Willert

Read the full article at NewsOK.com >

The Oklahoma City School Board on Monday night approved a modified expansion plan for KIPP Reach Academy that will allow the charter school to occupy an existing elementary school building while a task force explores other possible locations.

Board members voted 7-1 to accept Superintendent Aurora Lora’s recommendation for future expansion by KIPP, which will relocate about 300 middle school students to Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School next month while a committee determines where KIPP will open an elementary school in 2017 and a high school in 2018.

“It will not necessarily be at King,” Lora said after the vote. “It could be at King if families learn about it and are interested. But if they are not … I mean, we will work with the community to find the best building for (KIPP) to go into. Same for Douglass (Mid-High School).”

The task force, which Lora said will be assembled next month, also will consider the consolidation of district schools in the northeast quadrant, where both schools targeted for expansion by KIPP Principal Tracy McDaniel are underutilized.

“One of the things that I’ve heard loud and clear from families is that there needs to be more support for neighborhood schools,” Lora said. “So this process is going to identify what those initial supports are, and then help us determine where those (KIPP) schools might go, whether it’s their own separate building, a building that’s vacant, those kind of things. It will be somewhere in the northeast but not necessarily where they were recommending.”

McDaniel proposed moving from a building it shares with F.D. Moon Academy into Martin Luther King and adding 600 elementary school seats beginning with the 2017-18 year and sharing space with Douglass Mid-High in 2018-19.

He was pleased with the compromise, calling it a “win-win for students.”

“I’m excited and happy about the opportunity to partner with Oklahoma City Public Schools … and looking forward to working with Aurora Lora and her team,” McDaniel said. “I love it because we get to move the middle school, and we’re going to work together over the next two or three months to decide as a community where the elementary school should be and where the high school should be. And that’s fine, because we should have buy in.”

Board member Carrie Jacobs voted in favor of the modified plan, calling it a “good compromise” because it will take a look at the bigger picture in a community plagued by poor-performing schools.

“I think we need to evaluate what’s happening in northeast Oklahoma City as a whole. It is an emergency. It is a crisis,” Jacobs said. “I’m glad that KIPP can be an option for more families now. I’m glad MLK can be autonomous and there can be some long-term discussions about what can be best for the whole area and not just one school or another school.”

The KIPP expansion plan has been met with fierce resistance by parents, teachers and others with ties to both schools who say they oppose charter expansion because they fear it could harm kids who are left out.

The proposal was roundly criticized as lacking transparency in the early going, when McDaniel declined to identify the schools he had picked for expansion before and during a series of board-approved community meetings that were characterized as less than representative by opponents.

Courtney Lee, a Douglass parent who opposes KIPP expansion, said she has collected 500 signatures from others who feel the same way. She says she is not anti-KIPP, but “I don’t want them in our neighborhood schools.”

“The good thing about it is they’re going to be looking at other schools and not giving him Douglass and Martin Luther King,” Lee said. “The bad thing about it is they are going to let him move in the middle school and that is wrong; they shouldn’t let him do that.

Lora, named superintendent earlier this month, has met with many of the parents and acknowledged the need to listen to their concerns.

“I think this is a way that gives families an ability to have options, but it still values what I heard from the families of the neighborhood schools, that we have not done enough to support them,” she said. “So I want to figure out what supports we actually need to put in those schools while figuring out where another choice could be if they want a different option for their child.”

Lora spoke Monday night to a standing-room-only crowd, with most in the audience wearing blue and orange KIPP T-shirts.

In recent days, KIPP had its case strengthened by a group of elected officials, business leaders and community activists who support the expansion plan and met with Lora and school board members.