By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles on the Norman Public School district’s proposed bond issue to be voted on Feb. 11.
When a freshman enters high school, he or she is 14 or 15 years old, the small man on campus. When a senior graduates, he or she is 17 or 18, able to drive, vote and about to take on more responsibility then they have probably ever known. Norman Public Schools officials said they
recognize that currently the way the district approaches teaching these very different students is almost exactly identical and that has to change.
In the 2014 bond issue, 47 percent of bond funding has been dedicated to school facility additions and renovations. Out of that portion of the bond funding, about $22 million has been dedicated to each high school, particularly for the addition of a Freshman Academy and University Center on both campuses. If the 2014 bond issue passes, Norman Public Schools will be the first school system in central Oklahoma to have University Centers. NPS also will be the first in the state of Oklahoma to have University Centers on multiple high school campuses.
The $126 million, five-year bond issue will be voted on Feb. 11 in two proposals. This bond issue is the largest ever proposed in the school district’s history. For the bond issue to pass, it must carry a vote of 60 percent.
Voters will be asked to approve one proposal representing $122.5 million for renovations, safety and security, technology, athletics and annual expenditure projects, as well as a separate $3.5 million proposal for transportation. State law requires transportation be a separate proposal in school bond elections.
The $126 million bond issue is not expected to raise or lower property taxes because other bonds will have been paid off by the time the new bonds would hit the tax rolls.
There are only two high schools in the state of Oklahoma that have University Centers. Enid Public Schools opened its University Center this past fall 2013 at Enid High School. Union Public Schools in Tulsa also has a University Center.
Superintendent of Enid Public Schools Shawn Hime said Enid’s University Center is a point of pride for students.
“It’s been more successful then we could have ever imagined,” Hime said.
Since establishing a University Center, Enid schools have seen a jump in advanced placement, and Hime has received almost 100 letters from students and parents thanking the school district for giving students the opportunity to learn in an academic environment that mirrors a college environment including the option to take concurrent enrollment classes, Hime said.
If passed by voters, the 2014 bond issue would make the following additions/renovations at both Norman High School and Norman North High School: interior renovations of certain existing facilities to include, but not be limited to, classroom, restroom and library renovations as well as redesigning a portion of the facilities into a Freshman Academy; and building University Centers to include, but not be limited to, site work, offices, classrooms and saferooms.
NPS high school principals and administrative staff formed a committee to research what additions and renovations should be completed at Norman High and Norman North with the 2014 bond issue. The district consulted with Union Public Schools and Enid Public Schools and decided the 2014 bond issue was an opportunity to not only add classrooms, but change how the high school program functions by focusing on the transitional periods during ninth and 12th grades, school officials said.
Enid Public Schools faced a similar situation before its University Center was built.
“We had extreme growth in the district. Instead of just building extra classrooms, we wanted to input a vision of excellence and build an environment more like college, so that our best and brightest could be proud of their high school and take advantage of additional college preparation,” Hime said
Norman North High School principal Bryan Young said that freshman entering high school look much different then seniors graduating high school.
“The Freshman Academy would allow us to provide more structure during a transition. It’s a big change from eighth grade to high school,” Young said. “We’re very fortunate in Norman to have support so we can provide these types of opportunities for our kids because it does take a commitment to stay up with other schools.”
Beck said the development of University Centers also should allow for more autonomy and collaboration among students. With the technology initiative in the 2014 bond that will place a device in every students’ hands, students can use those devices to work in groups and solve complex problems, Beck explained.
“This is a forward and innovative district,” Beck said. “The bond goes right to the core of providing solid services for students.”
The University Centers would provide seminar areas, student work areas, conference rooms and more to facilitate teamwork and rigorous learning.
“Teachers love to use the phrase ‘in the real world,’ well in the real world, you don’t sit at a desk all day without your phone or any other distractions. There is distraction and interaction, constant movement,” Beck said. “We hope the University Centers will provide a space where students can learn to engage while adapting.”
University of Oklahoma Dean of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education Gregg Garn said that research from around the country shows that students are two times more likely to get accepted into college and to graduate if they participate in concurrent enrollment. Although Norman students already participate in concurrent enrollment having facilities like the University Centers would provide for more options and equity among students, Garn said.
He explained that right now students have to drive to OU campus for concurrent enrollment classes, which can be a problem for students without a car, but with the addition of the University Centers, OU and NPS hope to connect further and bring some of the concurrent enrollment classes to NPS campuses.
“Norman Public Schools are making sure every kid is prepared for college,” Garn said. “... Norman is out ahead of the curve by having their students make college preparation a priority,” Garn said.
For more information about concurrent enrollment, visit ou.edu/ce.
The bond issue represents the sum of the district’s bonding capacity for five years. NPS utilized a revenue bond structure, allowing immediate access to funds it would have had access to over five years and use them to make needed capital investments district-wide in a shorter period of time.
The law requires all bond issue projects to be completed within three years of the start date.
In 2009, NPS passed a similar bond issue for $109 million. The 2009 bond issue focused on renovations of elementary and middle schools, and Ronald Reagan Elementary was built. All of the 2009 bond issue projects were completed on time.
The projects included in the 2014 bond issue were identified in an objective process that drew from an independent Norman Demographic Study in 2012 and independent Facility Plan studies conducted in 2007 and 2013.
Early in-person voting will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 at the Cleveland County Election Board. Polls will open 7 a.m. Feb. 11 and close at 7 p.m.
Registration to vote closed Friday, Jan. 17, 24 days before the election, as required by law. Sample ballots are available at the Cleveland County Election Board website.
The Cleveland County Election Board is located at 641 E. Robinson St., Suite 200. For more information, call 366-0210 or visit clevelandcountyelectionboard.com.
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