Two candidates will face each other in a Feb. 10 election to determine the next chair of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education.
Kirk Humphreys, the former mayor and current chairman, took over the position when Cliff Hudson resigned the post last year. Angela Monson, his opponent, is a former state senator and representative.
As Oklahoma City mayor, Humphreys oversaw MAPS for Kids, a multimillion dollar taxpayer investment aimed at helping the city's struggling public schools. He said his interest in the continued success of MAPS for Kids is his No. 1 reason for being on the board.
"As mayor, I got involved in Oklahoma City Public Schools out of my interest in what's best for the city," Humphreys said. "Our taxpayers have stepped up and we can't afford to fail. That's why I'm involved, to make sure we deliver on what was promised."
This isn't Humphreys' first foray into school boards. As a parent to three, he served on the Putnam City school board for more than eight years.
"There's probably not a better way to be involved in impacting your community than through the schools," he said, "whether its PTA, or as a parent or supporter or school board."
Now, as a member of the OKCPS board, Humphreys is most concerned with revitalizing the district both physically and academically.
"My assessment of MAPS for Kids is we're well under way "¦ we're getting buildings built and seeing change. But, MAPS for Kids is more than bricks and mortar; it's what takes place in the buildings. The district is making progress, but we're not where we need to be and not where we want to be."
Humphreys, who went through Oklahoma City's district as a student and graduated from Northwest Classen High School in 1968, pointed to recent standardized tests as a marker of progress. In seven years, he said, since the implementation of MAPS for Kids, the district has significantly closed the gap with the surrounding suburban districts.
But, Humphreys said, there is still a long way to go. He said stable leadership, from principals to the superintendent, is needed for the district to move forward. He thinks they are on track with Karl Springer as new superintendent.
"This district has struggled for a long time," Humphreys said. "(There's been) lack of stability at the top, lack of morale throughout the district, lack of adequate funding, lack of high expectations. It takes time to put all that back in place, but we're doing it."
Success, Humphreys said, will be when a young couple buys a house in an older downtown neighborhood and, when they have children, won't feel compelled to head to the suburbs for a better educational choice.
Monson, a former state senator and representative, faces Humphreys for the board chairman position.
Monson is a 1973 graduate of Douglass High School and has long been an education and community advocate. In the Oklahoma Senate, she chaired the education committee, and during her tenure as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, she was involved in setting education policies. Today, she is chair of the Oklahoma Afterschool Network Leadership Team, is PTSA president at Northeast Academy, and is involved with the Oklahoma Institute of Child Advocacy.
Running for board chairman, however, was not something she anticipated.
"I've realized how ill-equipped and ill-prepared many of our students really are to perform academically," Monson said, "which would suggest to all of us that we could do a better job at improving the quality of education.
"There are some bright stars and shining examples in the district, but overall, I think we would all concur that the district performance leaves a lot to be desired."
She pointed to academic performance, the dropout rate and an inability to create trust with community stakeholders as the hindrance to success in the district.
That lack of trust, she said, is a huge stumbling block to moving forward. "The board sets the pace of leadership; a successful district requires the engagement and involvement of everybody," Monson said. "I think I can bring an opportunity for inclusion of all stakeholders in the direction the district is going to take: parents, teachers, administrators, business community, social service community, community-based organizations."
Monson said she would create a mechanism that allows for the continual participation of the community. "Not haphazard, not every now and then, but part of the structured process. "¦ When you create that level of transparency and openness " bring some sunshine to what's happening " then you create a different level of trust. I think that's been an issue for a lot of years."
She also said that every decision the board makes should first take into account the academic success of the students. "That should be our first priority," Monson said. "Everything we do should be measured against whether or not it improves the academic performance of our students."
With a history of three generations going to the district, Monson said she has a vested interest, like the whole community should, in the success of Oklahoma City's schools. "What happens to our children not only affects them and their parents and their households, but also the larger community.
"I think I have something to offer. If we keep doing things the way we've been doing them, we're not going to get a different result. I think now is an opportunity and a vital time to bring some different types of activities and governance to the district that I think I can bring." "Jenny Coon Peterson