Charter Schools in Oklahoma City Find Success Where Traditional Schools Fail

Article excerpt

Ivan Cantera surprised his friends - even himself - by making it to the 11th grade. Only one thing was more unexpected than his ability to meet and even succeed the academic requirements for advancement, the handsome, clean-cut teenager told a group of lawmakers gathered Thursday. The big surprise is that Cantera is still alive.

"Back in middle school, people wouldn't see me alive now," said Cantera, on Thursday nattily dressed in a black pinstriped shirt, white tie and fashionably framed glasses. "I was into gangbanging, drugs, all that nonsense. Principal Brewer changed my life. I play sports now, no more fighting, no more doing drugs. The only way to go is up, and that's the way I'm going."

The principal Cantera spoke of is Chris Brewer, head of Oklahoma City's Santa Fe South High School at 1537 NE 24th St. The high school and junior high school are both charter schools, public schools that have been freed by the district to operate independently and to implement different ways of teaching.

Members of the House Education Committee met Thursday to discuss how some charter schools in high-poverty, urban areas are graduating successful students while their neighboring public schools continue to garner low test scores and high dropout rates.

Cantera said he's getting a scholarship from the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program. He's still undecided as to whether he will continue his education at Oklahoma City University or the University of Central Oklahoma.

Ninety-one percent of Santa Fe South High School's students are minorities; 90 percent are eligible for free or reduced price lunches. Many wind up at Santa Fe South after having been unsuccessful at other schools.

"I went to Capitol Hill High School, and it was nothing like Santa Fe South," said Rocio Esparza, a senior at the school. She had planned on dropping out before she started at Santa Fe South. "I found myself there, I learned to believe in myself, and I'm a stronger person because of it. I will be the first person in my family, in five generations, to graduate high school and college." Esparza said she plans to study nursing at the University of Oklahoma. …

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