BROKEN ARROW — More than 30 Broken Arrow community members spoke at a forum Tuesday evening about a preliminary proposal that would divide the Broken Arrow school district’s high school — long the largest high school in the state.
Many participants opposed the idea of splitting into multiple comprehensive high schools, expressing concern about creating a “good school” and a “bad school” while diminishing the quality of programs such as the marching band.
But overall, there seemed to be consensus that the community needs more information about the district’s process of deciding on a proposal and how any changes could maintain equitable opportunities for students.
“We will do better,” Superintendent Janet Dunlop told the crowd about how Broken Arrow Public Schools would communicate with the community in the future.
About 100 parents, students, teachers and community members gathered at the Broken Arrow Freshman Academy, 301 W. New Orleans St., to discuss concerns and preferences about reconfiguring Broken Arrow High School to accommodate a growing student population.
The high school, which has grades 10 through 12, has 3,524 students, and the Freshman Academy has 1,285 students, the district has reported.
A preliminary recommendation announced March 22 proposed reconfiguring the current Broken Arrow High School and Freshman Academy campuses into two comprehensive high schools for ninth through 12th grade by fall 2021.
Many parents said the current high school campus, at 1901 E. Albany St., is better equipped than the Freshman Academy campus, at 301 W. New Orleans St., and wanted to know how the two schools could offer equal opportunities for students.
“This school (at the Freshman Academy campus) will never be that school (at the high school campus),” one parent said. “Give us an equitable option.”
One student said that if she had to choose between two high schools, she would attend the one at the current high school campus “because I know that there wouldn’t be as many opportunities to thrive over here (at the Freshman Academy campus).”
Parents and several students were also concerned about how a split would affect the quality of academics and extracurricular programs, particularly the Pride marching band.
“This defeats the entire idea of ‘we are one,’ ” a current Pride member said about the prospect of Broken Arrow students competing against each other, explaining that the phrase is a motto that’s been “beaten into me since I joined.”
Opening multiple comprehensive high schools is one of three options that were presented to the community in forums and an online survey in the fall.
The other options would have divided the high school into “academies,” each focused on a different subject area, or placed 10th-graders at a separate campus, similar to the current Freshman Academy.
Many parents at the forum wanted to know why those other two options have apparently been turned down.
They discussed the benefits of keeping students in different grade levels separate from one another and wanted to know more about the academy model.
Several participants expressed concern about breaking up the “Tiger” community.
“In terms of branding, who gets to be the Tigers?” one parent asked.
While there seemed to be a lot of opposition to splitting into multiple high schools, some of the participants emphasized that “something has to be done” about the growing student population.
“Keeping it the way it is is not a solution,” one woman said.
So many students are at the high school right now that there isn’t room for all of them to participate in pep rallies, and there aren’t enough classrooms for all of the teachers, she said.
Although there were disagreements about how the high school should be changed to handle the growing student population, there was consensus that there needs to be better communication about the process.
“Change is tough, and it’s scary, but it’s inevitable,” one parent said. “The biggest consensus I see is for better communication. That’s been poor, at best.”
At the end of the 1.5-hour forum, Dunlop commended participants for displaying “what it looks like to have a democratic process in place” and said those types of conversations needed to happen “a long time ago.”
She promised to improve communication, including about the overall vision for different proposals and how they would affect academics and extracurricular programs. She also said “many more voices” would be included in that “visioning process.”
BAPS officials say the High School Configuration Study Steering Committee will evaluate information from the community forums this week and an online survey and then will present a recommendation to the school board in May.