and even crazy to others. It involves throwing a backpack over my shoulders somewhere around 4:00am, lacing up my favorite pair of boots, and taking that first step down the trail. I love to hike, especially up a mountain. Last December I was invited to join Dr. Schuerch this summer in his ascent up Mt. Rainer, a peak that’s been on my short list for the better part of two decades. I began to inventory my gear and started to fill in the holes. In March a new set of Black Diamond Cyborg crampons came by UPS, and I could already feel the crisp mountain air and aching muscles. The anticipation was tangible, but as April and May rolled around it became clear to me that Rainer was not the mountain I had to climb this summer.
Harding Fine Arts Academy was founded in 2005 with the vision that education was not just preparation for life; education is life itself. It is the thrum of a drum as much as the turn of a phrase; it’s a solution to an equation and a solution to the human condition. Almost ten years ago a small group of community leaders stood at the base of a mountain, laced up their boots and started to climb. Through a remarkable faculty over the years, the mission and vision of these community leaders has breathed life into the futures of so many students from all over the metropolitan area.
HFAA has created a proven track record of promoting student success through a unique blend of arts and academics. We follow the Oklahoma A+ Schools model of organization and instruction, and serve as a demonstration school for the model’s implementation at the high school level. This year we were proud to be named by US News & World Report as one of the top ten high schools in the state of Oklahoma. In addition to offering quality arts programs, HFAA has earned an A+ on the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s A-F grading scale for the 2013-2014 school year, further demonstrating the school’s commitment to high academic achievement. We are proud of these, but awards and accolades are only the byproduct of the tireless work of teachers, students, parents and a community.
With our successes have come challenges. HFAA’s charter through OKCPS allows for enrollment of 500 students in grades 9-12. However, due to a lack of classroom space, we are currently able to serve only 360 students. Last spring, when we held our lottery, we instantly found ourselves with a waiting list of students clamoring to attend HFAA. It was clear we needed to strategically plan our next steps.
plan to address HFAA’s need for more classroom space, improve the existing learning environment, and allow for growth over the next several years. The renovation plan involves three phases:
Converting the current library into three new classrooms;
Renovating the currently unusable pool area into new drama and dance studios; and
Turning the current dance room into a modern and efficient library/media center.
This summer Phase I was our mountain. Parents, students, teachers and administrators cleared out our existing library and teachers’ workroom and divided it into three classrooms. New paint, carpeting, wireless access points, and intercom were added, and the teachers’ workroom was relocated to a former storage area between two classrooms. Ms. Crysmire and her students tore out the horribly flood-damaged floors in her classroom, and we replaced it with a new floor. Not a day was spared all summer long as we climbed up and down those familiar stairs. Countless hours were donated by parents, teachers and students, and four of our families committed over 1000 un-air-conditioned hours this summer to makes sure our children had what they needed to start the school year.
Now comes the challenge of ascending up Phase II and III. By Oklahoma State law, the students in charter public schools do not receive any money for facilities maintenance or improvements as do students in district public schools. Additionally, charter public schools are also prohibited in Oklahoma from issuing bonds or incurring debt. This leaves only highly competitive grants and private donations, for which we have been faithfully applying.
Phase II is underway as the old pool area and locker room have been completely stripped, electrical and lighting upgraded, sub-flooring installed, wireless and intercom access added, and the teachers’ office built. Additional electrical work needs to take place before the HVAC installation and other renovations can be completed.
Phase III will convert the current 1st floor dance studio into a beautiful, multi-functional media center complete with computers for student and parent use, a conference area, and counselors’ offices.
We know all of this hard work is considered grueling to some, and even crazy to others, but we energetically contribute each step. As school began I took a moment to gather up all my summer hours on paper. I kept a tally sheet of each sun-soaked day noting the number of times I went up and down our Harding stairs and found it was an average of 17 1Ž2 ascents each day, totaling 60,961 feet of elevation gain. That’s over four times up Mt. Rainer and more than twice up Everest. Sure the views weren’t the same, but I’m eternally grateful to all those who walked the trail with me this summer. We know our students and their futures are worth it, and we challenge you to support our expedition in whatever way you can. Now, back to the trail.
Barry Schmelzenbach, Principal