Joe Pierce CloseupokcBiz – Dean Anderson

Joe Pierce has opened schools before. In his 30-year career in education, Pierce has been on the ground floor of something new several times.

But now, the first principal of Oklahoma City’s Downtown charter school hopes that he’s leading up to something truly amazing.

John W. Rex Elementary School is under construction at 500 W. Sheridan Ave. and will eventually house as many as 500 students, though only prekindergarten, kindergarten and first and second grades will be offered when the school opens in August.

“What drew me to it was the possibility of creating a school with the concepts and values that I think are the most important in a quality education,” Pierce says.

Pierce is a firm believer in the three R’s: rigor, relevance and relationships.

“I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to create something that really is a gem,” he says. “It’s like a blank canvas on a silver platter.”

Pierce previously served as executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Putnam City Schools. He founded West Field Elementary in Edmond Public Schools district and was principal at Orvis Risner Elementary.

He was honored as the 2007 Oklahoma Elementary Principal of the Year.

The setup is almost too good to fail.

Pierce was brought in a year early to prep. His Facebook and voicemail are full of past colleagues wanting to get one of the 14 or so teaching positions that will be available.

The University of Oklahoma signed the charter, and Pierce will be able to work out the bugs along the way as he adds new grades each year. Oklahoma City Quality Schools has pledged to supplement public funds with private donations of at least $3 million during the first five years.

The school won’t have an advertised focus other than providing a well-rounded education. Pierce promises that science, technology, engineering and math will be blended with the arts by teachers who will be encouraged to be learners as well as educators.

He promises to send students out into the community to learn from the arts — Civic Center Music Hall is just down the street — and businesses alike.

He expects that to flow both ways. “What I think it allows the school to do is become a launchpad for learning and discovery,” he says. “We can send students out, but we can also invite those people.”

The slate is truly blank for Pierce. He’s not only opening a school; he’s writing the rules as he goes.

“The challenge is creating the infrastructure,” Pierce says.

And the real challenge is to create something amazing.