Focus must be on moving OKC school district forward

July 31, 2017

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What does community support for public education look like? It looks like $4.4 million in time, talent and treasure through Partners in Action, the joint initiative of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools. It looks like $1.2 million in support for OKCPS teachers through the foundation's partnership with DonorsChoose.org. It looks like support for 36 bilingual paraprofessionals working to become certified teachers. It looks like the hundreds of organizations and churches providing support for district students and families each day. Working together, pulling in the same direction, focused always on what's best for kids.

The past school year and summer brought to bear many challenges and too many headlines involving heated debate between OKCPS constituents and stakeholders. It's difficult to tell whether all are well-intended, but let's assume they are. This discourse, even well-intended, does nothing to move OKCPS forward. In fact, it has proven quite the opposite, and has become too much like what we see at the national level: Too much divisiveness and no forward progress.

Nobody wins when city council members are calling school leaders names and when disagreements become disrespectful. OKCPS students deserve better, and this is not at all aligned with the Oklahoma Standard.

While collaboration isn't always seen in matters involving OKCPS, there are many bright spots that bring to light the positive impact working together can have. Support like the district participating in the Gay Pride Parade in June. The yellow school bus, with multi-colored streamers flying from the windows, was a never-before-seen site in this annual event. Seeing Superintendent Aurora Lora, carrying a sign that read, “OKCPS supports all students” told the LGBT student community that they are seen and that they are valued.

Another bright spot, with a caveat, is at what Principal Wallace-Sela is calling the "new" North Highland Elementary School. She and her team are committed to creating a culture and climate at the school where every student and family member feels welcome, supported and valued. There are many community members wishing to assist in this effort, though it's important for them to give school leadership the time to assess needs and address them, rather than assuming they know best about how the school should be managed.

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." This is an often-used phrase, but one that is especially important for the success of our schools. As the new school year begins, it is important for the community to remember to focus on what is at stake here.

Slowing down in school zones to keep our kids safe is imperative and something everyone is accustomed to doing. We need to have the same muscle memory for putting agendas aside and asking what schools really need. This allows for strategic focus instead of head-spinning chaos. Most importantly, it allows for productive and meaningful work for our most important stakeholders — our children.

Read Mary Mélon's original NewsOK editorial.