I founded Santa Fe South, an Oklahoma City charter school, after working as a music teacher and then as an assistant principal at two different traditional public schools. I decided to start SFS after experiencing a personal crisis: I realized that our traditional schooling system was incredibly inefficient at educating children and incredibly efficient at crippling the ability of teachers to do their jobs. I also witnessed a disturbing amount of inequity. Schools on one side of the city, with 98% free and reduced-price lunch, were failing and setting their kids up to fail. A few miles North, the opposite was true. Zip codes were literally determining these kids’ futures, their happiness, and even their life expectancy.
I decided to do something about it, and in 2001 we opened Santa Fe South in a church basement with 120 students and seven teachers. We pride ourselves on being 100% kid-focused. This is not an employment center for adults. Every adult at Santa Fe South, including myself, is replaceable. Our students are not. We care about our kids, their success, and their well-being. Period.
The results speak for themselves. We have kids who were involved in gangs before coming to SFS. Now they are college bound. We have parents who have experienced traditional public school and experienced poverty and hardship; they bring their children to SFS because they want something better for them. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is providing that better alternative, watching those kids graduate and become successful adults, and seeing many return to their communities as forces for positive change.
“Choice” is a big deal for us at Santa Fe South because every child and every family has chosen to be here. If our students and parents choose to leave, they can, and we won’t have a school. So we are always striving to be better.
In fact, the range of school choice options in Oklahoma — programs like the Opportunity Scholarship Fund and Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships — create a kind of positive pressure we need to respond to. The more options kids and parents have, the harder we work to demonstrate that we are the best choice for our families. I enjoy that kind of motivation and believe it makes our school, our teachers, and our work-product better.
If you are wondering who “school choice” helps, I invite you to visit our school and meet our students. The vast majority of them are non-white children from working-class neighborhoods. There are a lot of people and elected officials who preach a message of equity and diversity. Nothing impacts communities of color and working-class families more directly and positively than school choice and access to schools like Santa Fe South.