Owasso Public Schools plans for changes, challenges in upcoming school year

OWASSO, Okla. — A new school year starts Thursday for Owasso Public Schools.

About 9,300 students attended Owasso Public Schools last year. However, new Superintendent Dr. Margaret Coates tells FOX23 that enrollment has grown to nearly 9,800.

There are several big changes for students this year, including the end of free meals. The USDA has ended the waivers that provided students with free school meals during the pandemic.

“All of our students could eat for free, so now that’s going away. Students will no longer be able to eat for free,” said Dr. Coates. “We’ve got to put money in those accounts again.”

School safety is also on everyone’s mind this school year, after the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. Dr. Coates says several local law enforcement agencies, including the Owasso Police Department, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, and the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office spent the summer training inside Owasso schools.

“They come into the school building and they actually walk the halls, go in the classrooms, they practice as if there is an active shooter somewhere,” said Dr. Coates. “They’ve been to almost every one of our school sites, so they are familiar with our buildings, so godforbid if something should happen, they would be familiar with our facilities.”

All of the perimeter doors are locked. Visitors must be buzzed into the front offices, and there are cameras inside all lobbies and hallways. Additional cameras were installed in parking lots over the summer.

The district also launched a five-year strategic plan this summer. The first step was a survey that parents received earlier this month. Then, committees made parents, school staff, business owners, and city leaders will meet to discuss things like security and growth.

“Do we need to reconfigure the high school? Do we need to buy more property? Do we need to add another elementary school? Do we need to reconfigure our grade centers? These are all just ‘what if’ questions that will come out in the committee process,” said Dr. Coates.

There are multiple teaching positions still open as we enter the new school year.

“It’s very challenging, the pandemic has taken its toll on everyone,” said Dr. Coates. “We’ve had teachers retire, teachers just leave the profession, it’s been tough. People are not wanting to go into the profession of teaching.”

Despite this, the district held successful career fairs and hired about 100 new teachers. Students in every grade will have a Chromebook computer, and students in 5th through 12th grade will bring theirs home each day. Younger students will keep their computers at school. According to Owasso Public Schools, all teacher positions have been filled, and the district is starting the year with no vacancies.

Dr. Coates says more students with access to computers at home will allow schools to pivot to distance learning due to inclement weather.

Parents may also notice construction at some of the buildings. Voters passed an $84 million bond measure to add safe structures at the 8th grade center and Hodson Elementary. The roof will also be replaced at the West Campus of Owasso High School.