San Miguel De Allende, 2015, Credit Kristi Crutchfield Cox Community planning happens in stages; sometimes vision is clear, everyone is on board, and all see the same roads to progress. However, more often than not,   planning happens as a result of issues being identified; community demographics, changing neighborhoods, and even simply, economic depression. Ardmore has [...]

San Miguel De Allende, 2015, Credit Kristi Crutchfield Cox

Community planning happens in stages; sometimes vision is clear, everyone is on board, and all see the same roads to progress. However, more often than not,   planning happens as a result of issues being identified; community demographics, changing neighborhoods, and even simply, economic depression. Ardmore has gone through several seasons of changes, from the days of a dirt road and a few buildings to city blocks and asphalt. Where once we had a Main Street packed with very upscale boutiques, we went through years where, as business owners got older, our downtown faded a bit. This happened in many towns, some losing their downtown to the  point that empty buildings became the norm, not the exception.

Reclaiming Main streets across America has been a challenge; business owners have had to find common ground while navigating the evolving desire of community members to have places to shop similar to those they travel out of town to visit, Chambers and Economic Authority groups have worked to understand mutual goals while approaching city concerns from different perspectives. Words like “gentrification” grew outward from origins of “urban renewal.” Filling up buildings with tenants sometimes outpaces city planning, resulting in storefront businesses that aren't places to shop but rather quick service fronts. Figuring out how to create downtowns that focus on patrons and not an abundance of shopping deterrent businesses, can cause an overlap of business interests, community needs and availability, and income shaped perspectives of what those entail.

Realistically, what I may want to walk between may look like the photo up top. Cascading flowers, soft hues, visual peace. These things soothe the mind, promote a different sense of interaction and community as compared to other forms of city planning; those of simple convenience and quick access, of flashing lights and glaring, incompatible colors. Of streets devoid of life, diversity  or beauty.

But Ardmore is making progress. Outdated buildings are being updated, new insight of effect of the “cheese grater fronts” have resulted in many of those being taken down, artistic eyes have added beauty again to buildings who had lost their shine. Finding ways to effect community life continues though; recently among issues of homeless and litter, there have also been more vocal requests for activities for adults, gatherings for our senior aged residents, dating and meet ups for our over fifty, discussions of developing more youth activity around skate park; i.e.  concerts and graffiti art competitions on cement walls claimed by youth needing a vestige of space to feel fierce and removed from prying eyes.

Yes, we even need this; our days of bonfires in fields and navigating peer issues have been replaced by a generation considered more safe than ever because so many never leave their rooms; life on a computer screen, fulfilled. Others wander the streets, bored and sometimes, destructive.

What does this have to do with homelessness? Our sense of connection presents itself in our most destitute and our most in need; before I go any further though, I would like to clarify some things-I am not a person who thinks every person has been wronged, nor that every person is a victim. Nor am I going to navigate the deeper ideas of what that all means in the grand scheme of our society-those conversations are left to better people than me-I have to many moments of wanting to have a bazooka and a target to be in charge of life and death of others. But in a sense I do realize one thing, our actions, our votes, our tv vieweing, our children, our schools, our work, our families of origin and our evolution all effect those very decisions everyday for millions of folks.

When you pass the body laying on the street, who has soiled themselves, who mutters and scares your child as you walk by, these are the moments we see the trickle down of our understanding or lack of knowledge in full.

The homeless represent everything. They represent the wars our sons and daughters couldn't come back from, form the  embattled VA system that may   not be ale to focus enough on the damage to our soldiers because our votes don't support  wars, ignoring the victims we create in our own pursuit of freedom.  They  represent our divorce laws and lawyers who help a parent navigate a legal system that pads the pocket of the more powerful, often times leaving the other to parent children without enough help to keep a roof. Of our DHS system enacting a decision to create a fine without public consent in discussing, to charge a fee to the receiving parent. Ten dollars is lunch at Scout's to me. To some of my clients, it's two or three extra hours of working in a week they have no time left in; it's medicine in some cases. I don't understand that reasoning.

Of the somewhat very conflated idea that the generations before could afford a Rolex at 20 and a warehouse apartment at 25; those pics you see of generations before were warehouse's no one wanted to live in during the time of suburban sprawl and others were of tv created ideas of a lifestyle I and most I know couldn't afford out of college or even many years after. The new cars of the gilded fifties? That was work programs and business investing in local towns, not moving across the planet to countries with limited regulations and cheap labor-that's profit over people folks.

Our sense of realty has been sorely distorted; the idea that stability cannot be reached is being ingrained as fact; we do not seem to understand the basic tenants of discussions of creating a solvent economic community with awareness of the challenges in doing such and the overall compromises and changes that could very much change our experiences as a whole in this community and from there the outward effect to  other towns. Of some of our country's businesses that pay just enough to not qualify for public health insurance  and a government that cannot use common sense to figure out costs are out of control,  lack of comprehensive preventative health and options  and the vicious cycle won't stop till someone  addresses the costs of medical need-pharma-that's you-  and asks why pharmaceuticals  cost so little in other countries but require a bank loan here. If folks can not  pay, and our allowed to be destroyed by insurer's and hospitals, then why eve   bother going to be treated in to be treated in the first  place?   One medical trip to the hospital, because of complicated paperwork, can result in your insurance covering virtually nothing and our local hospital of mercy sending you three bills for contracted services you didn't know weren't covered while laying on the table. Most private insurance has assured very little for the paying public.

Would you like an anesthesiologist with your surgery?

These things don't make it into our conversations of commercialized political messages. We don't realize more of us are the us,   not the them. We are angry at school for not controlling students better, for not preparing them, yet overlook the number of students who are ill equipped behaviorally to attend classes-disruption and aggression in classrooms and hallways leads to many students, females especially, to drop out, looking for other environments to learn in due to the basic struggle to get down the hallways without harassment. Of students whose homes are torn apart by parents whose minds have eroded due to choices the kid can't control; yet society feels they should be able to handle the stress of daily life. When you are surviving a war zone, two plus two may be a road map out of hell or a series of hours that could be better spent working and saving to escape.

Most of the us don't know this because our lives have had a certain amount of support from family and generationally more stable and better opportunity access that is so our norm we don't realize that for some, it is a concept almost extinct.

Which leads me to the local charter school initiative, being put forth by Brett Stidham. It  is  supported by the Ardmore Family  Literacy , which has helped educate and support students in obtaining their GED and served the  ESL community in many ways that contribute an extreme value to this community as a whole.    The charter is a part of the Native American Community Academy (nacaschool.org), whose goals are to strengthen communities, build respect among students, educate students in their cultural identities, and provide better education. Please visit site for a more in depth list of their mission. This charter would remove $500,000 from the traditional school budget to serve 50 in area students and 50 out of area students, with priority being given to in area students through a sign up option from which names would be drawn in a lottery so that equal access to apply and be considered is available. They are focused on using an emotional awareness approach as well as utilizing proven reading and math improvement programs for Pre K and K, with the idea of adding 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the first three to four years, with hopes of being at 4th grade by year five. the contract is good for 5 years so the money is committed regardless of how community feels. At year five, the contract goes up for renewal. From what I reviewed it looked similar to other reading programs available in area and the current character education and contracting with mental health that currently exists in our community, just on a smaller population and environment.

After attending the forum and talking with Brett, I came away with several impressions and feelings. I realized that my anger at the idea of the school having $500,000 removed from the  school budget was based on a   variety of contributing factors that, when he and I compared these, probably equally are trying to address the issues we feel are facing education  and our community.

We just feel very differently about who the group most in need truly is.

I don't support this particular endeavor at this particular time. After surveying our community on this topic, I have found a wide range of head start, Pre k, and K options that parents seem very satisfied with; does this mean Ardmore City Schools is doing the best they can, probably not, but did I hear any glaring disappointment enough to warrant $500,000 being removed from budget? No. I have heard many folks asking why a program that addresses the needs of 4th-6th grade, middle school and high school for students of disruptive emotional behavioral needs and students who need alternative education with more flexibility to allow for work and education to coincide as being the bigger concerns and needs.

No one mentioned  Pre K and K  as a need.

I also considered the recent efforts of the Ardmore Development Authority, spearheaded by Mita Bates,  which  is commissioning a labor study to find out what businesses are looking for now. In the past, tax incentives and land for pennies were the big pull of business; today more and more communities are aware that quality of life for employees relocating here are as a big an incentive as affordability. When looking at what type of employees we  have to offer, breaking down the most basic common skills as well as our unidentified and underused or underemployed job market and labor force is critical to understanding our work pool as a whole. We have lots of gamers in our town; attracting a gaming company that would want to pair with our vo tech, looking into getting some grant money for    youth for a special programming class could open up a tech environment that could attract the cash strapped folks who are priced out of Silicon Valley but talented and eager to work.

And our youth would have a job market to go into locally.

Those  are the type of creative solutions I am interested in, not taking the money from the all for the few with limited return on investment in the next 3-5 years.  To me and the community members among several demographics, the business owners, the tax payers, the parents of students currently in ACS, members of boards in the area, and a few legal field related folks  whom have reached out to give me their input-  have echoed the sentiment that another pre K program, another head start, the offer of basic case management to help parents without GED to locate where to go to classes-these things are duplication of services already in existence and therefore not really worth my tax payer dollars right now-but in two years, if our economy and state have some insight into approving new revenue sources and having better funding available similar to the Denver Public Schools, which was mentioned as a school system embracing this new charter school model that Mr. Stidham is proposing, well, lets face it, marijuana does manage to provide a good economic boom for social experiments in education such as charter schools–if Oklahoma had that type of extra money then  I would support Brett Stidham and this group because it would be  a funded experiment that did not take from all for the few-he is passionate, calm, and idealistic–we need that in our leaders. The Ardmore Family Literacy, those folks have helped kids I directly have witnessed grow from gaining their GED-I believe in their program.

But this charter at this time, no,  it  doesn't meet the needs we have. This being said, it will possibly be approved by  a board on state level if they think they know better what our community needs than we do.    Maybe they are right. But it bothers me that they would presume so.

I don't know yet, but that's the point of these articles, to help us all figure out what is going on, how it impacts us, and what better informed voters and citizens truly can do when they understand  and have education on the things being decided rather than  just the  headline and emotional reaction.

And that is part of my concern in looking at how we spend $500,000 if we take it out of the general pool of money that supports educating our youth. Many hold the  idea  that head  start and pre  K are the main tenants in building educated students, however, in talking with educators and reading various studies -please feel free to google research over Head Start and Pre K both for and against to understand results fully–head start and pre K are helpful, but by fourth grade the impact is difficult to notice. However, programs for middle and high school youth, who need the  immediate access to intense intervention for reading and math  skills and to better understand and master skills such as comprehensive critical thought have a quicker impact on our society and labor pool.

This effects our quality of life and our labor pool overall much sooner than another head start or pre K  program.

Schoolyard to prison pipeline is not a result of pre K, it is a result of middle and high school lost engagement and lack of options for true intervention on different levels.

Mr Holland called me today, willing to talk about his vision and his experience with charter schools while in OKC, noting that in his experience he did not feel comfortable making a decision without tax payer input.

I appreciate that my input as a tax payer matters; however, I am aware there are ways for charter schools to move into a community without tax payer approval. I would encourage all citizens to go to the Oklahoma State School Board website and learn more about  paths  that override tax payer input in their community.

This is what made me angry and to clarify, it is charter schools across the board, not culturally specific only, I mention this because it has been brought up that Native American affiliated charter schools can be approved regardless, which is true; however, in further research, it is true of charter schools in general.

For the record, I am not opposed to figuring out different, more progressive and educated methods  to educate our students; I have a front row seat at where we are failing; every school ahs their areas, but presently Ardmore is the one having the headline grabbing  difficulty.

So, more articles coming, but for now, what I love about our community is that, we are talking, we are asking, we are debating, we are fired up, we are seeking–we are using our brains to take in new info and think about what we think, not simply be spoon fed a few words for emotional response and knee jerk endorsements.

If we want our community to be better, we each have a role in the process.

Be kind to you Ardmore, we are in this together.