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Midwest City Beacon




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Watonga Republican


Switching to Charter Allows

Epic to Run Rural Districts
May investigators, the
World reported.
Tulsa were sent to addresses in
nearby Wilburton school dis-
08 Purpose of Law
trict, promising a customized
education for students and
One state legislator says touting the school’s “double-
the law permitting the digit academic growth.”
arrangement in Panola was Butler called this “predato-
2019 never intended to be used by
a virtual school.
ry marketing” and said the
statements made on the post-
A 2016 change to the card are misleading.
Oklahoma Charter School Panola elementary students
Act allows a traditional did post positive academic
Page By Jennifer Palmer
school district to convert to a
charter. The measure specifi-
growth on the latest school
report cards, with 80 percent
B004 Oklahoma Watch
cally states, “A conversion
school shall retain the charac-
of students improving
between 2016-17 and 2017-
teristics of a traditional public 18. But only 27 percent of
To save his financially
Clip imperiled school district,
Sen. Ron Sharp, R-
those students scored on
grade level, compared with
resized Panola Superintendent Brad
Corcoran in 2017 pitched a
Shawnee, said when the bill 57 percent in Wilburton and
was considered in the 51 percent statewide.
25% plan to convert the traditional Legislature, lawmakers didn’t
public district into a charter discuss a conversion school Changes at School
school. being anything other than a Panola is so small that
In becoming a charter, brick-and-mortar school with teachers handle at least two
Panola Public Schools would regularly scheduled classes. grades apiece. It has a Class
turn over its management to “This is Epic One-on-One B basketball team, but there’s
a company affiliated with (the statewide virtual school) no art, physical education or
Epic Charter Schools, the at home under the pretense of music, parents say. Epic’s
largest online school in the a brick-and-mortar conver- taking over management of
state. The school board sion charter district,” he said. the school didn’t change that.
agreed. Some parents like the But other aspects have
The Epic-related firm con- changes. Jessica Manning, changed. Teachers can work
tributed $100,000 toward who lives in Wilburton, near part-time at Panola and part-
Panola’s debt as part of the Panola, sends her four chil- time at Epic or another
agreement. That company dren to the school. “At first, school. Superintendent
manages the small district for people had a mindset that our Corcoran, for example,
a more than 10 percent cut of kids were going to be staring earned nearly $87,000 in
its funding. Panola’s high at a computer all day,” she 2018, but only $4,500 was
school students now have the said. “Elementary hasn’t for his role at Panola; he is
option to attend most classes changed. High school has actually a full-time Epic
online from home. more computer work, but employee.
The deal was unprecedent- they still have book work.” And Epic uses Panola as a
ed. Not only was it one of the For the Panola deal, Epic hub for giving standardized
first conversions-to-charter used a limited liability com- tests to its statewide virtual
in the state, it allowed Epic’s pany it formed in 2015 called school students in the area.
company to operate a school Community Strategies-CA. In the Norwood district,
and gain many benefits Community Strategies-CA is which rejected Epic’s man-
denied other charter schools: a nonprofit LLC, while the agement proposal, Epic offi-
It could tap into and spend similarly named Community cials deny that they were the
local property tax revenue to Strategies Inc. is the tax- ones who approached district
cover costs of student trans- exempt nonprofit that is the leaders.
portation, school buildings legal name for Epic Charter “Norwood reached out
and sports facilities, like tra- Schools. after hearing how we were
ditional school districts. Community Strategies-CA able to financially and aca-
And Epic didn’t stop at now receives all revenue for demically turn around
Panola. Panola, including local prop- Panola,” said Hickman, the
Leaders at Norwood, erty taxes, state aid and feder- Epic spokeswoman.
another small district nearly al funding. Shoemaker, the Norwood
100 miles north of Panola in There is just one other con- board president, said the
the town of Hulbert, say Epic version school in the state: company offered laptops for
came to them last year with a Millwood Elementary in students and a stipend for
nearly identical proposal to Oklahoma City, which con- internet services, but they
convert the school to a char- verted in May 2017, around pitched combining the local
ter managed by Epic. Epic the time Panola did. school board with Panola’s,
planned to consolidate the Millwood is still managed by which would have given each
Norwood and Panola dis- the local school board. community fewer seats at the
tricts, said Norwood Board table.
President Danny Shoemaker. Concerns About Epic After Norwood’s school
But in December, the Epic’s rapid rise and push board unanimously rejected
Norwood board rebuffed the into school district manage- the agreement Dec. 13, the
proposal. ment has many traditional district’s superintendent Ken
“It (the Epic proposal) school leaders wondering Bridges, who Shoemaker said
would not benefit our stu- what’s next. supported the plan, resigned,
dents, and we’re there for the Pam Deering, executive after serving six months in
kids,” Shoemaker said, director of the Cooperative the position. Bridges could
adding he was grateful their Council for Oklahoma School not be reached for comment.
situation wasn’t as dire as Administrators, said the
Panola’s. He questioned state’s lack of investment in Hope and Uncertainty
Epic’s motives, suggesting public education over the last Panola and Epic officials
they were more about profit- decade has contributed to declined several requests by
ing through its management many educators’ frustration Oklahoma Watch to tour
affiliate. “This was more to with Epic. Panola school and speak to
line somebody’s pockets,” he “There is a concern, yes, students and staff.
said. that someone could swoop in School board president
Epic officials have denied and offer a huge chunk of Randy Conley provided a
they put profits over educa- change to take over a written statement saying par-
tion quality and say their school,” Deering said. “We ents and faculty are grateful
school’s rapid growth is just have to educate our for the school’s partnership
proof that their online and (local school) boards and with Epic, which he said has
blended models meet fami- superintendents and commu- been beneficial both finan-
lies’ needs. Shelly Hickman, a nities that a teacher in the cially and academically.
spokeswoman for Epic, said classroom is where education “Today, our school
Panola and Norwood are needs to be, and virtual can finances are sound and we
examples of how Epic tries be a part of that if it’s handled have improved (from F) to an
to make different learning right.” overall grade of ‘C’ from the
models work together to Trice Butler, superinten- state,” he said. The letter
serve all students. dent of Wilburton Public grade is for Panola
But as a business, Epic Schools, which neighbors Elementary, a preK-8 school.
continues to explore ways of Panola, said she is concerned The financial uncertainty in
accelerating its growth. that Epic is looking to repli- Panola, and the transition to
Combined, its own two cate what it’s done in Panola Epic, have caused many stu-
schools — Epic virtual and in other districts. dents to leave. Panola’s
Epic Blended in Oklahoma Butler said her primary enrollment is down 35 per-
City and Tulsa — enrolled at concern is her belief that stu- cent from 2014, according to
least 23,000 students this dents at Epic are receiving a state data. It slipped by 2.7
year. A fourth blended center subpar education. She cited percent, or three students,
is expected to open this fall Epic’s low high school gradu- from 2017 to 2018.
near Rose State College in ation rates and high numbers Still, Conley says, “If it
Midwest City. To attend, of students leaving Epic and wasn’t for Epic, Panola
Epic students have to live in returning to traditional school would no longer exist
the same county as a blended schools with academic credit … We hope that more of the
center, and the Panola school insufficient for the time they students that left Panola for
is their first foray into rural were enrolled. (Epic main- Wilburton and surrounding
Oklahoma. tains that some students districts during our uncertain
Epic’s school in California come to them behind in cred- time return to us.”
is also expanding, now its and the school helps them
enrolling students from five catch up.) Oklahoma Watch is a non-
of the state’s most populous Epic’s presence in Panola profit, nonpartisan media
counties. And an Epic-relat- has also raised concerns organization that produces
ed company is in contract about aggressive attempts to in-depth and investigative
negotiations with Pulaski attract students and teachers journalism on a range of
County Schools in Arkansas. from surrounding school dis- public-policy issues facing
In the midst of that growth, tricts even in the middle of the state. For more
Epic has drawn more scruti- the academic year. Oklahoma Watch content, go
ny from lawmakers, the pub- Panola spent $650 for to
lic and state and federal postcards, and at least some

Property of OPS News Tracker and members of the Oklahoma Press Association.