Mayor envisions 'unified vision' to move Oklahoma City public education forward
Mayor David Holt said Wednesday that he would gather together city, business, educational and philanthropic leaders this year with the goal of producing a "unified vision" for public education in Oklahoma City.
"I recognize that an attractive public education system is critical to our city's success," said Holt, who has two children in Oklahoma City Public Schools and who grew up in Putnam City public schools.
Holt made the idea of a community-wide "collaborative conversation" on strategies for improving public schools the centerpiece of his second State of the City address.
Sponsored by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the city's leading business organization, the event drew about 1,600 people, who filled a ballroom at downtown's Cox Convention Center. Others could watch on a livestream at the city's Facebook page.
Holt used the moment to pay tribute to the 168 people who died and countless others affected as a result of the Murrah Federal Building bombing 25 years ago, as photos of the dead filled video screens.
Silence filled the room, and Holt said "part of empathy is having the wisdom to know that today it may be your neighbor who bears the load but tomorrow it may be you."
Campbell Walker Fields and the choirs of Classen School of Advanced Studies Middle School and Classen SAS at Northeast High School performed Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" to end the 45-minute address.
Holt said convening a working group to develop a strategic plan for improving public schools has precedent in Project KIDS, which was the launchpad for MAPS for Kids. The $700 million MAPS for Kids renovated, replaced and expanded public schools throughout the city.
Project KIDS was a collaborative venture of business, city, charitable and educational organizations, Holt said, and "take even one of those four from the equation and MAPS for Kids isn't possible."
"I know there are those big dreams out there now and we often don't even bother to bring them up because we know the right people aren't in the room, the coalitions aren't in place, the focus isn't there," he said.
"I'm proposing to align those stars and let's have that conversation again."
Holt commended Oklahoma City Public Schools board chair Paula Lewis and Superintendent Sean McDaniel for the "hard and necessary work" of running the state's largest school district and said "this isn't an operational conversation ... this is a different conversation."
"This is where we talk about the things nobody could achieve on their own," Holt said. "I have no preconceived notions about where the conversation goes, but I just know forward is where we have to go."
"I believe a mayor has an obligation to be a catalyst in getting us there."