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Public Montessori school approved to open in OKC, three other charters rejected


Public Montessori school approved to open in OKC, three other charters rejected

Nov 27, 2023 | 10:07 pm ET
By Nuria Martinez-Keel
Public Montessori school approved to open in OKC, three other charters rejected
Oklahoma City Superintendent Sean McDaniel speaks at a school board meeting Monday. McDaniel and a committee of evaluators recommended the board deny four charter school applications during the meeting. The board approved one of the schools and invited the other three to reapply. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — A public Montessori elementary school has been approved to open in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma Montessori Initiative would be the only public school in the city using the renowned Montessori method of student-driven, hands-on learning.

It was the only charter school to gain approval out of four that have applied recently with Oklahoma City Public Schools

In a series of votes Monday, the school board for the Oklahoma City district recommended the three rejected schools resubmit their applications with more information. Those applicants, including another potential Montessori school, have 30 days to do so.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Montessori Initiative can begin the lengthy process of founding a new charter school. With a target opening date of fall 2025, it would serve students from pre-K through fourth grade in far northwest Oklahoma City. 

The school’s application specifies an enrollment area of roughly Northwest 63rd Street to Northwest 122nd Street and Lake Hefner Parkway to Broadway Extension.

Public Montessori school approved to open in OKC, three other charters rejected
Rufus Howard, a co-founder of Oklahoma Montessori Initiative, said he didn’t expect the charter school to be approved Monday. The Oklahoma City Board of Education voted 6-2 in favor of the application. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

Rufus Howard, one of the school’s co-founders, said the vote was a surprise success.

“To be able to bring Montessori to Oklahoma City is always a positive, positive thing,” Howard said.

The school’s founders are eyeing the Mayfair Center event hall, 3200 NW 48th St., as a possible location and have discussed the idea with the property’s owner, Howard said. Now that the school is approved, they can begin negotiations to locate there.

Although unique to Oklahoma City, the school won’t be the only public Montessori in the state.

Tulsa Public Schools offers Montessori instruction at three of its elementary schools. Howard said the founding group for Oklahoma Montessori Initiative has been in contact with the team that established the Tulsa program.

Charter schools must be authorized by a local school district, a university or the state government before they can open. They are free, public schools that often use more experimental methods of learning. Students must apply for admission, and in many cases they’re admitted at random through a lottery.

A committee of evaluators in the Oklahoma City district reviewed the four charter applications, all of which were submitted on Sept. 1. The committee and Superintendent Sean McDaniel recommended the school board deny all four applications for being “insufficient in a number of areas.”

The district’s board chairperson, Paula Lewis, indicated it would be inevitable that another entity in the charter-friendly state would approve Oklahoma Montessori Initiative if her district had not. 

Public Montessori school approved to open in OKC, three other charters rejected
A sizable audience watches as the school board of Oklahoma City Public Schools votes Monday on whether to approve applications to open four new charter schools. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

Charter applicants who are denied by their local school district can ask for authorization from the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

“I think that this charter school will exist,” Lewis said. “I’d rather be a partner than an adversary moving forward.”

Lewis also signaled support for some of the schools that were denied. She voted in favor of opening the elementary charter school Rise STEAM Academy and voiced support for the concept of Willard C. Pitts Academy, a potential charter middle school.

Rise STEAM, Willard C. Pitts and another proposed elementary school, P3 Urban Montessori, would serve students in northeast Oklahoma City — an area that Lewis said needs more educational options.

Millwood Public Schools Superintendent Cecilia Robinson-Woods is leading the effort to found P3 Urban Montessori. She said the founding board will review the Oklahoma City district’s feedback and follow its recommendations.

None of the school board’s votes were unanimous Monday night, and many of the board members voted in favor of some schools while opposing others. However, certain trends emerged. 

Public Montessori school approved to open in OKC, three other charters rejected
Oklahoma City Board of Education Vice Chairperson Lori Bowman waits for a meeting to begin Monday at the Clara Luper Center for Educational Services in Oklahoma City. Bowman voted against three charter applications and in favor of one, Oklahoma Montessori Initiative. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

Lewis, Carole Thompson and Juan Lecona voted mostly in favor of the charter schools while Lori Bowman, Mark Mann, Cary Pirrong and Adrian Anderson cast more votes against. Meg McElhaney voted evenly on both sides.

Mann and Bowman said they’d like to see the denied schools resubmit their applications with stronger details on the schools’ possible locations and sources of start-up funding.

Each of the denied schools will receive a more detailed review from the district’s evaluation committee.

“They’re going to know when they get the executive summaries tomorrow what the district professionals saw as the deficiencies, and I look forward to seeing what they come back with in their resubmitted applications,” Bowman said after the meeting. “I think they have a lot of good opportunities to give some more clarity around a lot of those big issues.”