Oklahoma City Schools Reach 30-Year Enrollment Peak

Enrollment in Oklahoma City Public Schools swelled to its highest numbers since the 1970s. The increase is thought to be due to the steady growth of the city's Hispanic population, writes Megan Rolland at the Oklahoman.

In the fall of 2011, there were 43,000 students enrolled in Oklahoma City public and charter schools, with about 19,800 of them being Hispanic, says data released by district officials this week.

Sandra Park, deputy superintendent, said that a key priority for Oklahoma City Public Schools is to reach out to the Hispanic community and make certain "they feel welcome and involved in their children's education".

"We really feel like we're meeting the needs of our Hispanic population, not as well as we want to, and not as well as we're going to, but we do feel like we're moving in the right direction," Park said.

Officials also note an increase in the number of students who are learning English as a second language. Over the last three years the district has seen an increase of about 2,000 English Language Learner (ELL) students.

High-need students with low proficiency and who are new to the country are given a year of intensive English as a second language classes at one of seven schools identified as "newcomer centers" at the schools.

Chris Berry, director of language and cultural services of the district, said he is aiming for a paradigm shift within the district.

"Is it a challenge, or do we have the opportunity to be of service to over 11,000 students who are enriching our city, enriching our district and enriching us?" Berry said.

Park said the district would benefit greatly from an increase in both teachers trained specifically in teaching students who are learning English and an increase of teachers who are themselves Hispanic, writes Rolland.

"Of course one of our greatest challenges with a growing population of English Language Learner students is resource allocation.

"Our state would benefit greatly if our universities would embrace an English Language Learner program for teachers."

Park is also pushing for the recruitment of Hispanics into education, serving as teachers and role-models for the younger generation of Hispanic students.

"It's probably more powerful than we could ever say," Park said.

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