This is a great time to live in Oklahoma City.
Our city is in the throes of a Renaissance. Infrastructure is improving. Businesses are flourishing. We are bursting at the seams with civic pride. The horizon is promising. More good days are ahead, and we feel it. This is a great time to be here.
But that optimism turns sour for some when it comes to public schools. Our children and those working to educate them are battling serious obstacles: poverty, homelessness, a massive teacher shortage. Instead of chiding our school district, we must work tirelessly with everyone -- students, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers and the community -- to find real, long-term solutions.
Like nearly every district in Oklahoma, the number of students is growing in Oklahoma City Public Schools. The number of English language learners is on the rise, and our homeless student population is climbing, too. Nine in ten students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch. Teachers and administrators are asked to do more for more students, all while earning less than their equally-educated peers. The graduation rate of 75 percent is too low, and college entrance exam scores lag behind the rest of the state.
Despite deep challenges, Oklahoma City Public Schools has many bright spots, particularly growing enrollment in early childhood programs, such as Early Birds and pre-kindergarten. High school students have more options for advanced coursework than they have in years past. We are seeing success in all types of schools -- traditional and charter. Schools are building tighter bonds with the community and business sectors, and those bridges must continue to be built.
The district has about 5,000 members of parent-teacher groups. Barriers to involvement must be identified. As parents, we all want our children to succeed, but some families lack the resources to ensure that. As a community, we must help families move toward success together.
We must work with urgency. No child has a year to lose to ineffectiveness, whether it's a kindergartener learning sight words or a high school senior prepping for graduation. Good things are happening in Oklahoma City Public Schools, and we must all work together to share, modify and expand what works. We also must have the humility to admit when ideas don't work.
We all agree that our children deserve our very best, even though we might not all agree on how to accomplish that. The first steps are to listen and to learn. Our current school board is moving in the right direction; I want to help push even harder. Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City Public Schools are at a juncture. We're all on the same team, and we all have the same goal: success for the children of our city.