Our History

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released the report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. The report stated that “…the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

In the aftermath of the report, public school foundations began forming across the nation. The Oklahoma City Public Schools administration and school board selected a steering committee of 13 citizens to determine the feasibility of forming a collaboration designed to improve the quality of the school district. As a result, the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation was established in 1984.

Ray Potts, the Foundation’s first chairman, and its governing body of 22 trustees laid the groundwork for many of the Foundation’s lasting collaborations with the district. In 1985, the first Wall of Fame Humanitarian Awards Dinner was held as a fundraiser for public education. It was quickly followed in 1986 with the first Spring Honors Luncheon, now known as Stars of Education. What would become an annual event was held to honor outstanding educators, students and volunteers. It was this event where the Foundation’s first grants were awarded. By the 1990s, the Foundation’s role in creating a bridge between the community and the district was firmly established. The first student scholarships were awarded in 1993 and Partners in Education launched in 1994. These milestones were quickly followed by the introduction of the first TEAM campaign in 1995 and the debut of A+ Arts Spectacular! in 1998, which has led to many Arts in Education initiatives.

It was in the late 1990s that a diverse group of civic, business and community leaders formed Project KIDS (Keep Improving District Schools), led by local philanthropist Jean Gumerson and attorney Bruce Day. The committee led a massive education reform effort driven through a process of community involvement. A collaboration between the City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City Public Schools, the Board of Education and the Foundation, Project KIDS’ final report, Building a Learning City, gave specific recommendations for improving learning, facilities, fiscal responsibility, governance and developing and maintaining community involvement. MAPS for Kids (Metropolitan Area Public Schools) brought the funding necessary for capital improvements detailed in the Project KIDS report. In 2009, the Foundation revisited the Project KIDS report, assessing progress toward its goals and issuing recommendations aimed at helping the district’s academic operations catch-up with the construction program’s success.

In November 2014, The Foundation again made some gigantic strategic pivots. Building on new relationships with OKCPS leaders, we launched a partnership with DonorsChoose to connect donors directly to local classrooms. We offer support for OKCPS teachers whose projects meet our criteria. In 2015, support from The Foundation allowed the successful Urban Teacher Preparation Academy program to expand. It provides valuable tools to teachers entering the urban school environment. The Partners in Action initiative was formed in 2015 to connect community partners to classrooms. Our partners ranged from large corporations to small businesses and churches. We launched the Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Project in January 2016 to help bilingual paraprofessionals from Oklahoma City Public Schools attend college to become certified teachers and the Diversity Teacher Pipeline Program launched in 2019 to support paraprofessionals of color. These programs are now open to all paraprofessionals and there is also a high school to teacher pipeline program, supporting our own graduates. We’ve also launched an Aspiring Administrators Pipeline Program to help develop district leaders. We run ReadOKC, the OKCPS endorsed reading/literacy program, launched from the OKCPS Compact, whose members include leaders from OKCPS, OKCPS Foundation, City of OKC, Central Oklahoma United Way and Greater OKC Chamber. In 2016 we assisted in promoting and communicating the necessity of passing a $180 million bond to maintain OKCPS schools, which passed with a super majority and in 2022 we put significant effort into passing the largest bond in the history of OKCPS at $990 million.

Today, the Foundation continues its ongoing effort to develop and support programs that improve education for the children of Oklahoma City and to elevate its critical role in connecting the resources of the community to the needs of students and teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools. Our mission: to advance excellence, advocate for equity, and build strong community support for Oklahoma City Public Schools has never been more important.

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