A small group of Ardmore parents and residents met Thursday night to share their hopes and raise their concerns at an Ardmore Community Academy public forum held in the Ardmore Public Library.
This was the third open forum held by ACA founder Brett Stidham in an attempt to answer people’s questions and gain community support for a charter school in the Ardmore school district. Stidham has worked in the district as a teacher and administrator.
The group had questions regarding the charter’s budget and resources, and how the school, which is proposed as a more holistic alternative to public or private schools, would provide transportation, qualified teachers and support for students with special needs.
“I’ve been in conversation with a pastor or two who have church vans that during the week are not used and have communicated to me that these are a resource for families who have those particular transportation concerns and need support in getting to school,” Stidham said. “For pre-K and kindergarten, some families will be able to transport and we’ll work to arrange for the ones who aren’t.”
Stidham said he was confident the charter school would attract qualified teachers as well as student teachers.
“There will be teachers who will be drawn by that model, but I’m also interested in individuals who may have the passion to teach and the skills to do so, but who need a certificate and are capable of passing the test,” Sidham said. “I’m open to pursuing every option.”
Stidham said the charter school teachers would complete two weeks of teacher training that would cover the school’s expeditionary learning curriculum and social and emotional support training. He also said 20 percent of the school’s budget will be set aside to provide for students with disabilities who may need extra accommodations.
Kristi Crutchfield Cox, who attended the meeting, said she questioned whether or not the training could adequately prepare teachers to deal with students who face tougher issues.
“While I appreciate the points that were made, two weeks to learn how to deal with children who’ve been through high trauma is interesting when it takes… (years) and then a two-to-three thousand hour internship to be certified by the state of Oklahoma to work with children who have high or even moderate emotional needs,” Cox said.
Kelly Shannon, director of finance at Ardmore City Schools, voiced concerns that the charter school’s expenses, a projected $300,000 out of the district’s budget, would negatively impact the school budget because of timing.
“If you take 50 students out and that money goes, you have less money to cover already-hired people for a year,” Shannon said. “My concern isn’t that this isn’t a good idea at some point. My concern is that we are in a budget crisis.”
Stidham responded that while the budget crisis is ongoing, the state of education in Oklahoma is also in crisis.
“Students at Jefferson Elementary School, 45 percent of them don’t read on grade level,” Stidham said. “Let’s look at the highest end, at Lincoln Elementary. There are four of you on the back row, out of you, whose child doesn’t get to read on grade level there?”
Stephanie Coleman said she was drawn to ACA’s emphasis on working directly with parents and the community.
“This model, for me, gets back to basics,” Coleman said. “It takes a village to take care of our kids. We need each other, our kids need the support. Everybody has a different way of doing things, and sometimes my approach may be better because I’m looking at it from a different perspective. This is about our community. This is about our kids having a better option. We have to do better by our children.”