(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a four-part series examining the Deer Creek school district's 'recipe' for success)

Deer Creek Schools has a way of making people feel at home.

Just ask the Buchanans.

A few months ago, Hurricane Katrina uprooted Kent and Lauri Buchanan.

Kent was an associate professor at Tulane University, a private four-year research university in New Orleans, which faces $200 million in recovery costs and a significant budget shortfall. Needless to say, he needed to find work somewhere else.

But it didn’t take the Buchanans long to find a place to land.

Both Lauri and Kent graduated from the University of Oklahoma, and Lauri had a sister living in the metro area, in north Oklahoma City.

They arrived in Oklahoma on Sept. 1 and after they got settled in they started thinking about choosing a school for their son Keaton, a second-grader.

Lauri’s sister took the Buchanans to Deer Creek Elementary School.

Lauri said she felt an immediate connection with the school and liked the administrators and faculty. In terms of quality, the school is very comparable to Keaton’s school back in Louisiana, Lauri said.

“I immediately knew we would be comfortable here,” Lauri said.

The Buchanans had thought they would be back in Louisiana by Jan. 2. But fate had other plans.

And while they may not remain in Oklahoma permanently — that depends on Kent’s job prospects — if they do stay, they want to stay within the Deer Creek boundaries, +Lauri said.

A unique district

A large part of the reason behind Deer Creek’s growth is its uniqueness.

Deer Creek Superintendent Becky Wilkinson said the district offers many of the same benefits of a big city district with individual attention.

As a result, the area is experiencing a phenomenal growth spurt. Deer Creek is one of the fastest growing areas in the county, if not the state, Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce President Hardy Watkins said.

Watkins said a prime reason is the school district.

“Deer Creek is working hard to stay academically excellent and still maintain that smaller school environment,” Watkins said.

Deer Creek is located west of Edmond and north of Oklahoma City in a rural area with a suburban feel. The district has an Edmond address, but it also extends into northern Oklahoma City.

Student enrollment as of Oct. 1, 2005 was 2,569, an 11 percent increase over the same time last year. Deer Creek Elementary School had 611 students. Prairie Vale Elementary School had 659, the middle school had 613 and the high school had 686.

The past couple of years, annual district growth has been and is expected to continue to be at or near the 10 percent mark.

That statistic likely will continue.

Within the past three years, the Oklahoma City Planning Commission has approved about 6,000 lots in the Deer Creek area, school board member Jim Benson said.

Because there is no typical city structure, it is difficult to pinpoint an overall population figure for the area, Benson said.

Deer Creek administrators and the members of its school board have made a commitment to do what it can to keep elementary school enrollment at close to 500 students per location.

That will be accomplished with the opening this fall of Rose Union Elementary School, and the addition of a fourth elementary school if voters approve a $31.7 million bond package in February.

Academic prowess

Wilkinson said the support from its patrons, the good personnel and having a school board focused on student achievement have helped the district achieve its impressive record of success.

Deer Creek has the rare distinction of having each school be a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School, having a National School of Distinction in Prairie Vale Elementary and having a Great Expectations Model School in Deer Creek Elementary.

Faculty and administrators also have received many state and national awards.

The last three years, Deer Creek has had the highest Academic Performance Index (API) score in the state, including a 1458 last year, based on a 0-1500 scale.

The API is a numeric score that measures school and district performance based on a variety of educational indicators. It allows schools and districts to gauge their progress.

Components of the API are used to meet reporting requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act.

(Education reporter Mark Schlachtenhaufen may be reached via e-mail at ms@edmondsun.com)


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