Considered by some as a jewel in the Oklahoma City Public Schools system and even one of the best schools in the country, the Classen School of Advanced Studies will be accepting fewer students next school year.
A magnet school for students in sixth to 12th grade, Classen offers an international baccalaureate program, as well as visual and performing arts program. Facility renovations, likely to be completed in May, are being funded by the MAPS for Kids program.
Constructed in 1919, the Classen building became a magnet school in 1994, meaning students must apply and are accepted based on a number of criteria, including test scores. It was ranked in Newsweek's top 100 schools in the nation in 2009.
However, the number of students attending the school has decreased steadily over the years. A couple of years ago, the school had around 1,050 students, but when the decision was made by the school board to limit enrollment to only students already in the district, that number shrank to the current enrollment of 953 students, said Superintendent Karl Springer.
The planned renovations will further lower the maximum number of students who can attend the school, putting the target enrollment of sixth graders between 120 and 130, for a total enrollment goal of 935 students by the 2012"?2013 school year.
Those decreased numbers did not sit well with some school board members and parents.
"I think the Oklahoma City school district should build on its strengths, and Classen is one of the strongest schools in the district," said Pam Newby, the mother of a former and current Classen student, and liaison between the MAPS advisory board and the school's parent-teacher-student association. "It's also the only school where students outside of the district want to go to. It's counterintuitive to want to decrease the enrollment (at one of) your most successful schools. Why wouldn't the district want to expand, build a new school, purchase properties around Classen to add to it? I think there would have been a number of options."
Newby said city and school district leaders should work together to try and expand the school, and that the amount allocated to Classen from MAPS for Kids is not enough to fully expand the school.
"We aren't able to do anything we would like to do for the school because there's simply not enough money allocated to our program with the MAPS allocation," she said. "No one knew how costs were going to escalate, but I do feel there was some shortsightedness there. I think they didn't take into account the age of our school, they didn't take into account that it had never been brought up to code since it re-opened, and they didn't take into account the popularity of the school itself."
Springer said that because of Classen's location, it would be difficult to expand its physical size, and that other Oklahoma City high schools should take what is working at Classen and implement in their institutions.
"I think now we're required to look at where we are and figure a course of action so we can meet the needs of more of our students," he said. "It's troubling to me that about 88 students that were qualified to go there were not admitted last year. But at the same time, I think the bigger issue is to work with all of our high schools so that those students all get the same quality education you get at Classen."