A Brief History

Harding Fine Arts Academy was the dream of John L. Belt who was largely responsible for the redevelopment of the Paseo area of Oklahoma City. When he learned that Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) intended to close the historic Harding building at 3333 N. Shartel, John knew that a vacant school would add to the urban blight that he had been working to remove and would do nothing to improve the neighborhood. More importantly, John was a strong supporter of the arts, as he had been a drama and music student in college. He wanted to establish a school focused on fine arts because he valued the importance of arts in education. At that time, OKCPS was cutting its visual and performing arts programs.

1924

Our building was constructed and designed by Solomon Andrew Layton, the City’s legendary architect also responsible for Oklahoma’s State Capitol, Skirvin Hotel, Numerous buildings at OU and OSU’s campus. His total contribution to the City was over 100 public buildings. His signature style was collegiate gothic and you can find dozens of public “sister” schools throughout the city

1924

Harding Junior High School

1955

The Harding School Building received bond money from the Oklahoma City Public Schools (not sure of their official name at that time) to add on the large gym, band hall and new parking.

1958

The school re-opened as Harding Junior-Senior High School. It was often revered has one of the top public schools in the state—“a private education without the private education price tag.” At this time they served 1600-1800 students per year often utilizing hallways, practice rooms, large closets, and temporary classrooms in the field for additional space.

1969

1969 - Students pour off the bus (right) for the first day of classes at Harding

The final graduating class of Harding Junior Senior High School, from then it served as Harding Middle School for 6-8 grades.

1990s

The school was closed and abandoned for unknown reasons.

2002

John Belt created an exploratory committee to evaluate the possibility of opening a fine arts high school. After much research into different school models the
group decided to pursue starting a charter school.

2003

The new school received its charter from OKCPS as the school’s authorizer. The next two years were spent in further research and fundraising to open the
school.

2005

The Academy opened its first year with approximately 85 ninth grade students.

The Academy also partnered with Oklahoma A+ Schools, to implement a rigorous arts integration curriculum becoming the first of its kind in the state of Oklahoma. The following three years, the Academy recruited additional students until all grades were full.

2012

The Academy was able to register the Harding School Building on the National Registry of Historic Places because of its significant historical value
to Oklahoma City.

2012

John Belt passed away in early March and his wife, Joy Reed Belt, quickly stepped in to take his place.

The Academy hosted the inaugural Leadership in Arts & Education Awards to honor John and celebrate community members who have made significant contributions to the arts and education in Oklahoma.

2015

The Academy celebrated 10 years of excellence in education and the arts. After passing an extension accreditation process, the Academy was
recognized at a “National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”

Harding Fine Arts Academy student Rhea Brown-Bright was named Oklahoma’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate.

2018

The Academy School Board created a superintendent position allowing the administrators more time to focus on their specific duties and increasing responsibilities.

The Academy receives the Governor’s Award for Arts in Education.

January 2019

The Oklahoma City Public Schools District announced that the District was implementing the Pathway to Greatness plan which involved closing fifteen schools and reconfiguring school boundaries effective the next school year. The Harding School Building was included in the schools to be closed. This unexpected opportunity allowed the Academy to realize a dream of occupying the Harding School Building alone.

March 2019

The Academy was selected as Choice Matters’ “Best Charter School of the Year.”

April 2019

Harding Fine Arts Academy Foundation (Foundation) was established as a 501c3 Type A Supporting Organization. Members from the School Board transferred to this independent Board of Directors to focus on fundraising efforts.

July 2019

The Academy was able to purchase the building (without acquiring any debt) thanks to generous donations from the Kirkpatrick Family Fund and Inasmuch Foundation and others in the community.

August 2019

The Academy opened its doors for the first time as the sole occupants!

September 2019

The Foundation established the Building Renewal and Construction Committee (BRCC) to begin planning for renovations in the building.

March 2020

The Academy had to make the difficult decision to switch to virtual schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next year and a half, the Academy would alternate between virtual and hybrid learning. Because of restraints on fundraising, many of the building plans were put on hold or slowed down.

November 2020

The Foundation hired a Director of Development – its first full-time staff member.

2021

The Academy left Oklahoma City Public Schools District and signed the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma as its new authorizer. This new partnership allowed for greater flexibility in curriculum development, increased oversight of financial and governance matters, and increased support for arts-integrated education.

2022

The Academy successfully secured the prestigious $900,000 Charter School Program expansion grant from Oklahoma City Public Resource Center.