Holt's interest in OKC schools commendable
Early in his run for mayor two years ago, David Holt talked about wanting to pursue a strategy that bolstered Oklahoma City’s schools. Holt offered a broad outline of his plan last week, and here’s hoping it proves fruitful.
Holt says he wants to bring together leaders from the city, business, philanthropic and educational communities to create a “unified vision” for public education. “This is where we talk about the things nobody could achieve on their own,” he said.
As a candidate, Holt noted that most previous mayors didn’t involve themselves with the school district, likely because they didn’t see it as their job to do so — the district has a superintendent and eight elected board members, after all. Yet as Oklahoma City’s mayor he should take an interest, because as we have said many times, a stronger school district will make for a stronger city.
Holt, who attended Putnam City Public Schools and has two children in Oklahoma City Public Schools, made the same point during his State of the City speech Wednesday: “I recognize that an attractive public education system is critical to our city’s success.”
For too long, however, the district has languished. Its student count has fallen by more than 5,000 over a five-year period, and officials expect another drop next year. A recent survey of teachers reflected considerable frustration about student behavior and other problems.
The Oklahoma School Report Cards for last school year gave 30 district schools an F grade. That was an increase from 19 the year before. Six of those schools have been closed or have had another school move into their building as part of a reorganization implemented this school year. That overhaul, resulting from the district’s school buildings being at just 60% of capacity, included closing 15 schools and reconfiguring 17 others.
During his speech, Holt cited Project KIDS, a collaboration of the same four groups that he plans to call on, which paved the way for the $700 million MAPS for Kids initiative approved by voters in 2001. MAPS for Kids upgraded schools and school facilities throughout the district.
“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.”
There have been calls through the years for people and groups outside of education to assist the district. Many have answered those calls; just one example is the nonprofit Fields & Futures, which since 2012 has installed athletic fields at middle schools and high schools. That’s important because involvement in sports can be a savior for many students.
Holt said he doesn’t know where his proposed collaboration will lead, “but I just know forward is where we have to go.” The devil will be in the details, but the mayor is to be commended for leading on this critical issue.