With a former mayor's ardent support, downtown OKC is edging closer to becoming home to a new elementary school.
In a meeting of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education on Aug. 2, Kirk Humphreys led the brigade in convincing the board of the desperate need for a "first rate path through the system," one he believes doesn't currently exist in a district that is losing many families after the fifth grade to private and homeschooling.
"Letting the dust settle on this for another year is not an option for me," Humphreys said. "Kids shouldn't have to worry about how they're going to get into top-notch schools. This model provides the answer."
As the face of nonprofit OKC Quality Schools Inc., Humphreys is proposing a charter elementary school, one that would eventually add grades six through 12 to meet demands and aid in successfully advancing students through the rungs of OKCPS.
The proposed school is one of more than 70 schools approved for renovation or construction through the passing of MAPS for Kids in 2001.
The downtown elementary school is estimated to cost $8.8 million, although ground has yet to be broken " let alone selected " for the project.
Eager to move ahead, Humphreys said he envisions a school up and running by fall 2011, with a permanent building soon to follow.
The school board, however, maintains a lengthy list of concerns, particularly that the school's location evokes an image of catering to the offspring of the social and financial elite.
"I don't want the student population to be the haves versus the have-nots in a fight to the bitter end," board member Gail Vines said.
As OKC Quality Schools' board strived to suggest, maintaining the balance among classes is key.
"I think that everyone can see we're not just a bunch of businessmen in dark suits. This is intentional. Just as it is our desire for our student population to reflect the broad diversity of our community, it is important for our board to do the same " and we believe it does," Humphreys said.
The nonprofit promises thorough fact-finding measures to deliver positive population statistics to the school board.
"We want to be proactive," he said, "and therefore, we need to reach out to those in need."
The real deciding factor continues to be location and time frame. Although the nonprofit group believes it's vital for the elementary school to be up and running in one year " thereby residing in rented buildings until a permanent structure is obtained " some school board members are hesitant to get the ball rolling so quickly.
"I question the wisdom of jumping into this before we have a building secured," board member Phil Horning said. "We need to keep this discussion going."
Rather than fueling a never-ending debate, a suggestion was made for both sides to join forces to create a unified board, therefore allowing each party to hold equal weight in all decision making.
"We request that the school board appoint two or three people to join a like number from our organization to work through the details of how we might cooperate on this new school," Humphreys said.
"The best of all options is to seek a charter from OKCPS and for our groups to work cooperatively on this project. This is could be a real success for our school district, and this partnership is certainly worth trying."
As soon as the proposed joint board comes to an agreement, a recommendation would then be submitted to the school board and OKC Quality Schools' board for approval.
So far, Vines is the only school board member to agree to sit on the collective committee, although eventual support from others may follow.
"We are certainly interested in fulfilling the vision of a school of great diversity and in providing the type of education that Kirk is talking about," OKCPS Superintendent Karl Springer said. "Emily Hopkins
photo Kirk Humphreys. Photo/Mark Hancock
OKC Quality Schools Inc. Board of Directors
Leslie Batchelor, Center for Economic Development Law *Joe Clytus, Utilities Information Service Danielle Coats, Wilson School Parent Lori Dickinson, OKC Public Schools Foundation Amy Feighny, Christ the King Catholic School Lyn Hester, Integris Health *Kirk Humphreys, Humphreys Company *Stanley Hupfeld, Integris Families Foundation Pastor M.L. Jemison, St. John Missionary Baptist Church, Christian Heritage Academy Willa Johnson, County Commissioner District 1 Jesse Langston, OG&E Louisa McCune-Elmore, Oklahoma Today Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, US District Court Western District of Oklahoma *Xavier Neira, Manhattan Construction *Larry Nichols, Devon Energy *Bond Payne, Heritage Trust Nick Preftakes, Precor Realty Advisors Jessica Reineke, Westminster School *Teresa Rose, Chesapeake Energy *Bob Ross, Inasmuch Foundation Bob Spinks, United Way of Metro OKC *Lyndon Taylor, Devon Energy Valerie Thompson, Urban League of Greater Oklahoma *Molly Tolbert, Crowe & Dunlevy Tony Tyler, Tyler Media Trent Ward, Tom L. Ward Family Foundation Alba Weaver, OG&E *Executive Committee