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Five things this week in education

All in name

The Oklahoma City School Board will decide whether to rename three schools named after Confederate generals without any formal community engagement and before input on future names is collected

The board decided before it met Monday night that it would not consider a recommendation by Superintendent Aurora Lora to survey parents, students and others to "collect input on the future names" of Jackson, Lee and Stand Watie elementary schools.

"We want to vote to change the names. We want that vote to come first," board Chairwoman Paula Lewis said. "We felt like we had the cart before the horse.

"We're hearing from the community on a consistent basis. It's a board decision. We are hearing, trust me. Every board member hears. The board's supposed to lead. We need to be decisive."

The board is expected to consider taking action on renaming the schools Oct. 23 at it's next regular meeting.

While a majority of members are in favor of renaming the schools, some have questioned the need for Lora to seek public input beyond the communities served by those schools.

Charles Henry was the only board member to address the issue at Monday night's meeting.

Henry, who is black, has repeatedly questioned the need to get permission from the community to "remove the name of a Confederate general who represents the institution of slavery and white supremacy."

He said community input "is helpful" with issues related to changing the name of a school, "but not to decide if we're going to remove racist images from our schools."

Trading places

About 30 teachers in the Oklahoma City district will be reassigned to other schools and their previous positions eliminated because of lower-than-projected enrollments, The Oklahoman reported Tuesday.

Twenty schools will lose at least one teacher, 10 schools will lose two teachers and one school — Oakridge Elementary — will lose three teachers.

The 10 schools are Adams Elementary; Britton Elementary; Capitol Hill High School; Douglass Mid-High; Hayes Elementary; Heronville Elementary; Jefferson Middle School; Monroe Elementary; F.D. Moon Academy; and Willow Brook Elementary.

Capitol Hill Elementary, Coolidge Elementary, Edgemere Elementary; John Marshall Mid-High, Putnam Heights Elementary, Rancho Village Elementary; Spencer Elementary, Westwood Elementary and Wheeler Elementary will lose one teacher.

Teacher placements have been made but not announced by the district.  Teachers are expected to begin their new assignments Oct. 23.

Parents have expressed concerns over growing class sizes. The reassignments could mean classrooms could be combined or split between students in different grades.

Parents welcome

Parents convicted of nonviolent felonies will be allowed to visit, coach or supervise students under a revised policy the Oklahoma City School Board unanimously approved Monday night.

Board members said the current volunteer policy was too restrictive and needed to be changed to stimulate volunteer participation across the district.

"This is opening up to more people, with the goal of not leaving out people who want to be involved," said Carrie Coppernoll Jacobs, who serves on the board's policy committee.

"Because that's stuff that we've all heard, is 'blame it on the parents.' Well, the parents aren't invited, so we've got to fix that problem and that's what this does. We've been working very hard to see that safety is first and involvement is paramount."

Approximately 20 perspective volunteers are waiting to have their applications processed, officials said.

Currently, anyone who has a felony conviction or received a deferred sentence after being charged with a felony is prohibited from serving as a district volunteer.

Under the changes approved Monday night, volunteer applications with a felony conviction or deferred sentence that does not involve a violent act, sexual misconduct, child abuse, child neglect or child endangerment will be reviewed by the district, if the offense is at least three years old.

Additionally, applications with misdemeanor convictions or deferred sentences that involve dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, deceit or drug and alcohol offenses and are at least three years old will require additional district review.

Under the existing policy, those with similar convictions must wait five years before applying.

If a potential volunteer is denied based on the results of a criminal-background check, the individual has 30 business days from the date of the denial letter to appeal the decision.

Summer reading

Johnson Elementary students were recognized Wednesday for logging nearly 60,000 minutes of reading time over the summer, a period when learning often takes a back seat to other activities.

Johnson, with 59,802 minutes, was one of three elementary schools in the Oklahoma City district to log more than 50,000 reading minutes during the summer break.

Adams Elementary students were recognized Monday for reading 57,532 minutes while Rancho Village Elementary students will be honored Thursday with a celebration assembly for reading 50,711 minutes.

Similar assemblies will take place at 54 elementary schools over the next two weeks.

As part of the ReadOKC initiative launched in May by the Oklahoma City Schools Compact, district students were encouraged to read 1,200 minutes during their summer break, an average of 20 minutes per day.

About 150 children exceeded the goal of 1,200 minutes. Overall, elementary school students registered about 800,000 reading minutes, nearly three times more than the previous summer, said Mary Melon, president of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

"The overreaching mission of Read OKC is to cultivate the love of reading among our students," she said. "Students who love to read are going to read on their own. The more they read the more successful they're going to be."

The emphasis on summer reading is part of a broader literacy effort led by the Compact and its partners: the city, the foundation, United Way, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Best of the best

Six Oklahoma schools, including five from the Oklahoma City metro area, were named National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2017 by the U.S. Education Department on Thursday.

The schools are Earl Harris Elementary School (Bethany Public Schools); Centennial Elementary School (Edmond Public Schools); Cheyenne Middle School (Edmond Public Schools); Grove Valley Elementary (Deer Creek Public Schools); Dove Science Academy (Oklahoma City Public Schools); and Westwood Elementary School (Stillwater Public Schools).

Blue Ribbon Recognition is based on a school's overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

All six Oklahoma schools were honored for academic performance.

It is the first Blue Ribbon designation in the 17-year history of Dove Science Academy in Oklahoma City, a public charter school that serves 500 students in grades six through 12. Most are minorities who come from economically disadvantaged families, Superintendent Umit Alpaslan said.

"It is just an official endorsement of our efforts to promote college-bound education in our schools and promote college readiness at all levels," Alpaslan said.

Bethany Superintendent Drew Eichelberger praised Earl Harris Elementary teachers, students and administrators for the school's achievement.

"They've worked so hard to make this happen and they've earned this," Eichelberger said. "They've been a great school for years and they're finally getting national recognition for their hard work."

It is the first Blue Ribbon designation for Centennial and the second for Cheyenne, which was named a Blue Ribbon School in 2009, officials said.

Cheyenne Principal Michelle Grinsteiner gave credit for Cheyenne's successes to families, students, staff and current and past administrators.

"Cheyenne is an enthusiastic learning community where parents, students and staff place a significant value on education," she said. "We believe in educating the whole child and offering abundant and wide-ranging learning experiences for all students."

Cheyenne opened its doors in 2000 and serves 884 students while Centennial Elementary opened in 2007 and serves 870 students.

"We consider it a privilege to serve our students and families and we are humbled to receive this prestigious honor recognizing our successes," Centennial Principal Jessele Miller said. "As we look toward the future, our focus will continue to be 'Exploring New Frontiers of Excellence.'"

It was the first award for Grove Valley, a suburban school in the Deer Creek district that serves 549 children in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Deer Creek Superintendent Ranet Tippens characterized Grove Valley's Blue Ribbon award as "a beacon of light shining upon every student, teacher and parent."

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Tim Willert

Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers K-12 education, including Oklahoma City Public Schools and the state Education Department. Before that he covered district, federal and appellate courts in Oklahoma County. Prior... Read more ›