MAPS for Student Achievement? Sandy Garrett and reformer Bruce Day say 'yes'
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Published: 08-Oct-2010

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 08-Oct-2010

Sandy Garrett, the exiting Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Bruce Day, a nationally known attorney and co-founder of the MAPS for Kids program that provided massive taxpayer-approved resources for public school infrastructure improvements in Oklahoma City, say they support a new community-wide project to support practical steps to bring improved student performance to the fore. 

In interviews today (Friday, October 8), the two were asked if the city district, Oklahoma’s largest, needed a “MAPS for Student Achievement” program to lift the discussion back to the level of intensity for substantive reform last achieved late in the MAPS for Kids process a decade ago.

Superintendent Garrett said she endorsed the idea, and said it would be most effective “one school at a time.” Day, who has been active in a private foundation supporting public schools for more than two decades, also endorsed the question’s premise. 

Garrett and Day responded at the end of a week of widespread discussion and introspection among leaders frustrated at the lack of progress in local student achievement. There is a belief that only broader community involvement can deliver in new circumstances the intensity, passion and reform that illuminated the original KIDS (Keep Improving District Schools) Project, sponsored by the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

That project led to a report making the case for reforms in governance, student achievement, infrastructure and other areas.  Day, former School Board member Ron Bogel, newspaper publisher William Bleakley, local newspaper editors and a few others, including Garrett, the late civic leader Jean Gumerson, and the late Hannah Atkins, a former secretary of state, were part of a founding committee that eventually pulled together 50 community leaders.

The larger group in turn ultimately involved thousands of city residents in a lengthy process of deliberation, consultation and collaboration. That project led to a report making the case for school district reforms in governance, student achievement, infrastructure and other areas.

Local leaders then crafted a proposal to raise funds for improved school facilities. Ballot referenda approved by voters in fall 2001 financed infrastructure improvements in the largest local level infusion of new resources into public education in state history.

Some intensification of local discussion began last week, when elected local officials in east Oklahoma City characterized achievement gaps between African-American students and others as “unacceptable.” State Sen. Connie Johnson and Reps. Anastasia Pittman and Mike Shelton joined School Board President Angela Monson to ask residents to join Community Advisory Boards to counsel the city school district on how to improve local education.

As reported in a local weekly newspaper, The City Sentinel, Pittman said problems in local student achievement “didn’t happen overnight and we know it won’t be fixed overnight. … A student who does not graduate high school will not make as much as one who does.”

Monson’s Community Advisory Boards kick off on October 12 at U.S. Grant High School.  The John Marshall High meeting is October 13, followed by a session at Northwest Classen High on October 14. The initial advisory meetings conclude in a Strategic Plan Forum at Frederick A. Douglass High School on October 19.

In an interview this week with CapitolBeatOK, Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer reflected, “A couple of City Council members made comments about the lack of progress in achievement and what could happen as a result. After the stories in The Oklahoman and what was conveyed, I felt compelled to respond. Some of what was said seemed disrespectful to Board members.  … 

“The relationship with the mayor and the Council members has been very positive and respectful. Mayor [Mick] Cornett has been very respectful. Often the first thing he says when asked to discuss education or attend a meeting one education is that he’ll do it if I’m there, too.”

Asked to describe the school system’s ties with the business community, Springer commented,  “The kind of contribution the business community made in MAPS for Kids was huge. I believe everyone needs to communicate. There are people who are frustrated at the slow progress. I think everyone would like to see more progress. I’ve found that individually and collectively the business community and the Council are very supportive of what we’re trying to do. MAPS for Kids was an astonishing kind of effort. The revitalization of our school buildings has been huge.” 

Still, he added, “This district has not made the kind of progress we all want to see … As things have come up, the school board and the system have dealt with them head on.”

Springer, who assumed his duties in mid-2008, said it’s hard to redirect a system in two to two-and-a-half years, adding, “Three to five years is a more realistic time frame.” Nonetheless, Springer said he was hopeful: “What we’re seeing now is the start of a move from an adult-centric organization to a child-centric organization, a student-centric orientation.”

He continued, “Education has been a rationed commodity, and I see no reason in this era to have only a 180-day school year. There has to be political, social and economic will to make the necessary changes. You know, I’m a musician and I know the only way to really improve is to practice and practice. Similarly, in mathematics, to improve a student needs a good teacher, homework and practice. It’s the same in reading and all the other subjects.”

He added, “Even if we can’t increase the number of school days, to lengthen the school year, we should be able to lengthen the school day. Instead of 7 a.m. or a little later until 2:10 pm, we ought to be able to hold on to those kids another hour and a half or so.”

Springer continued, “We’ve got to make some fundamental changes. The social platitudes that ‘people need to work harder’ don’t apply in some cases. The public schools right now are producing the outcome they’ve been designed to produce, so we’ve got to change the design to get better results.

“Schools have to be made a welcoming place. When you have moms and dads working 2 or 3 jobs, they need a place where they feel welcome and where the focus can be on their kids. When I came to this job I knew it was a broken system. We have to fix the system to make education better more relevant, make kids career-and-college ready.”

Friday, district officials unveiled a technology-based reform intended to boost incentives for student performance. TracFone Wireless, the nation’s largest “No-Contract” cellular service provider, joined the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University (EdLabs) to unveil “The Million,” described as “an innovative, award-winning incentive program that rewards sixth and seventh graders with free cell phones in exchange for academic achievement.”

In Friday’s interview, Springer said, “I have to say I’m astonished sometimes because it’s as if some people have never been into the neighborhoods where our children resident 16 hours a day. Ninety percent of the children in our schools are on free and reduced lunch. That’s an astonishing number. It’s not an excuse to say that, it’s a reality. We have to do anything we can to give children hope.”

Commenting on the week of sometimes openly critical comments about school performance, Springer said, “I’m not upset about what has gone on the last few days. It has caused people to talk about education and the 42,830 kids in our system.”

Since Springer’s tenure began, reform efforts have included introduction of Great Expectations curriculum in elementary schools, programs to boost ACT scores in secondary schools, introduction of a “Reading City” program at all grade levels, establishment of continuous learning calendars at seven schools, extended school days at some sites, a challenging collaborative effort with the local union to transform the teacher pool at U.S. Grant, reorganization of the central office, implementation of all-day Kindergarten programs, and announcement of Monson’s advisory boards. 

As for Board President Monson, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK this week, she expressed concern about critical comments by council members.

“We are equally if not more concerned about academic performance in our school district,” Monson said. “We recognize that more must be done to change poor learning outcomes for many of our students and the board and district are on a path to make that happen.”

She continued, “Turning around our student performance will take some time. However we have identified several major innovations that we believe will have a positive effect. These innovations, some of which are underway, have built in measures to track student achievement gains; gains which we will see the progress over the next several years. We hope to see some progress within the next school year and continue over time.”

“We are continually in discussions with our teachers’ union and other unions regarding accountability and performance,” Monson said in the statement.  “If we are going to turn around our schools, we (the Board) recognize that it will take the entire community, including parents, businesses, community organizations, social service providers, all interested patrons and very importantly, city officials to make it happen.”

“We have asked the Mayor to appoint several Council members to join this planning effort,” said Monson.  “Although the elected Board of Education and the Superintendent are legally responsible for the school district and we have no intention of relinquishing that obligation, there is always an open invitation to city leaders to participate with us. Our plan is to move this district forward, to make sure every student is successful, and to ensure that each student in our district is prepared for career or college upon graduation.”



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