TPS Accredited with Deficiencies

Editor’s Note: This and several stories on public education in Tulsa curate material from and City Sentinel Tulsa, the conservative print publication of the city.

News/Analysis: As I write, the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education remains in session. They are in the Public Comment portion of the agenda. The decision all TPS was waiting for has been made.

The board unanimously honored the accreditation status that was recommended by the accreditation committee with a few key additions (I paraphrase from my notes since this is not yet published by the state board).

  • First, provide professional development in the science of reading.
  • Second, report monthly progress in person to the State Board.
  • Third, present a corrective action plan to get schools off F status.
  • Fourth, develop, publish, and execute financial internal controls.

The board added that other school systems are ready to share successful programs with TPS and that TPS will not be allowed to fail.

The accreditation decision was proceeded by General Counsel Brian Cleveland briefly outlining the board’s concerns about Tulsa Public Schools. They included financial controls, unimproved reading scores over a number of years, and not readily providing requested information to board members.

Superintendent Walters added his concern over financial issues being blamed on just one person, over blaming poverty for lack of academic improvement, and over lack of transparency with board members.

Next, the four TPS Board members, (in ABC order: E’lena Ashley, Susan Lamkin, Dr. Jennettie Marshall, and Stacey Woolley) who attended this State Board Meeting were given an open opportunity to speak if they wished.

Dr. Marshall said, “last night we took our step forward to future”. She expressed her support for incoming interim superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson and asked for state board grace as TPS works to turn things around.

Ms. Ashley expressed her support of Dr. Johnson, desire for local control, concerns about financial controls, and interest in hearing more conservative voices.

Ms. Woolley agreed that TPS must accelerate change, requested a moratorium on state board attacks on TPS, and asked that the truth about the percent of failing Tulsa schools be told.

Finally, a robust discussion between the state and Tulsa board members ensued. That discussion included reading deficiencies, Tulsa’s strategic plan, Tulsa’s challenges making academic progress, examples of Tulsa’s successes, and a suggestion to create more aspirational goals. When asked, Ms. Woolley stated that Tulsa records show that 37% not 65% are failing schools.

Now for a few of my opinions.

On the plus side, I was pleased that the State School Board:

  • accredited TPS with deficiencies.
  • laid out a rigorous set of demands to motivate hard work toward improving academic results, transparency, and financial controls.
  • had a public discussion with the TPS board members who were present before voting on the accreditation.
  • provided those TPS board members with the opportunity to present a comment prior to the public discussion.
  • made all their comments and asked all their questions in a, at times quite firm, but always calm and polite tone of voice.

On the negative side, I was concerned that the State School Board

  • did not find a larger meeting room to allow more constituents to attend the board meeting.
  • did not provide an area with a TV and live feed so that people who drove to OKC to participate could see and hear what was happening at the board meeting.
  • did not hear the time limited public comments that pertained to the accreditation standards division before acting on those decisions.

State Board members appeared to be of one mind: that TPS can and must do better and might benefit from consulting other schools in Oklahoma for additional ideas about how to maximize learning to read with students experiencing poverty and/or having English as a second language.

More than a few will be watching. Time for the Tulsa Public School District to deliver.

Contributing Editor, David Arnett

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