Dr. Johnson’s Bold, Clear, Data-driven Goals

During the December 21 State Department of Education (OSDE) meeting Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson laid out comprehensive plans to reach the three academic goals established during the November meeting. The plans included:

  • “refreshing” (increasing) several of TPS Board goals that are part of the 2022-2027 Strategic Plan
  • focusing on about 6,200 students grade four through eight
  • reassigning school principals to match school needs
  • freeing up office staff to go into the schools to cover classes during the English Language Arts (ELA) time periods freeing up the classroom teacher to focus on teaching ELA
  • reading tutoring: the Christmas Break tutoring has already successfully started with 323 TPS students having enrolled across five sites for eight days of three-hour sessions
  • implementing assessment culture: communicate expectation by setting goals (student and teacher), motivate teachers who in turn motivate students, include parents

Dr. Johnson also reported multiple collaborative strategy meetings between the TPS teams (academic and finance) and the parallel OSDE teams during December. The finance teams established bi-weekly meetings starting in January.

The well-deserved praise followed the day after the presentation in a social media video put out by State Superintendent Ryan Walters in which he expressed sincere admiration Dr. Johnson for taking “tremendous steps in the right direction”.  He labeled Dr. Johnson’s plans “bold, clear, and data-driven” and as just what the OSDE had asked for.

It appears that the troubled waters have calmed, the atmosphere is positive, the direction forward is clear and that all that is left is for the entire Tulsa community to “roll up its sleeves” and get to work!

The following are the some of the details of the TPS presentation and the OSDE questions and comments. For the rest of the details please watch the recording of this informative board meeting using the following link: https://www.facebook.com/OklaSDE/videos/666863372305724/

OSDE 2023-2024 Goal 1: At least 50% of TPS students must score basic or above on the 2024 OSTP ELA assessment or increase the amount of students who score basic or above by 5% (from 41% to 46% – 700 students)

Progress: Elementary school students – 51% demonstrated average mastery of tested OSTP standards based on core curriculum module assessments.  Middle school students – 43% demonstrated average mastery of tested OST standards based on end of unit assessments.

It is helpful to see how TPS compared to the statewide results on the Spring 2023 English Language Arts Performance (ELAP).  Hitting the 50% mark of “basic or above” would be a 9% shift or about 1,391 students.

Spring ’23 ELAPBelow BasicBasicProficientAdvanced

Dr. Johnson will be recommending that the TPS Board change its elementary academic goal that focuses on the language arts skills of economically disadvantaged students to bring it more in line with the OSDE goal.

Recommended Goal 1 The percentage of grade 3-5 students who score basic or above on OSTP ELA assessment will increase from 37% in May 2023 to 53% by May 2027.

Goal 120232024202520262027

Dr. Johnson is also recommending this change because it helps to identify the group of students who need additional help to reach a basic grade level in reading so that they can be successful in other school subjects that require reading.

TPS will continue track the 6,200 below basic students especially in grades 4-8 as way of ensuring that various strategies are working. Of those students

  • 92% are economically disadvantaged
  • 20% are on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
  • 43% are current multilingual learners (English language learners)
  • 31% attend a MRI (Most Rigorous Intervention) designated school  
  • 39% attend a CSI (Comprehensive Support and Improvement) designated school

For the Elementary Schools the strategies to improve English Language Arts skills are

  • All students daily: 90 minutes reading and 30 minutes writing
  • Basic students daily: extra 30 minutes specialized reading including 20 minutes direct, small group instruction with the teacher
  • Below basic students daily: extra 45-60 minutes specialized readng including 20-30 minutes direct small group instruction with the teacher

The strategy for the secondary schools is

  • All students daily: StudySync Language Arts 55 minutes
  • Basic students weekly: extra 40 minutes using Edmentum Exact Path
  • Below basic daily: extra 55 minutes using one of three programs suited to each student’s particular need(s)

OSDE 2023-2024 Goal 2: All teachers and school administrators will be trained in an OSDE-approved science of reading module.

Specifically, by May 30, 2024, 100% of current elementary and secondary TPS teachers and school leaders will complete science of reading training (based on active employment as of January 2, 2024).

Note: plans are in place to ensure 100% completion by May 2024.  Elementary teachers and school leaders will receive 25 hours of training; secondary teachers and school leaders will receive twelve hours of professional training online covering eight content areas.

OSDE 2023-2024 Goal 3: Twelve of the current eighteen MRI-designated sites (schools) will not be re-designated. Note: four of the eighteen sites have been removed from MRI designation status as of 12/19/23.

Specifically, at least twelve of the eighteen MRI schools will achieve the necessary points on the state report card to hit their CSI/MRI exit target.

  • Elementary MRI schools must earn at least 17.47 points on the 23-24 school report card, per OSDE Accountability website
  • Middle MRI schools must earn at least 13.53 points on the 23-24 school report card, per OSDE Accountability website
  • High MRI schools must earn at least 10.65 points on the 23-24 school report card, per OSDE Accountability website and must maintain a 4-year graduation rate of at least 67% based on 22-23 graduation rates

Board members asked several questions following Dr. Johnson’s presentation including:

Q: What counts as professional development? A: In-school time implemented in a day, Tulsa Way Saturday learning, and professional learning days

Q Who is conducting the training? A: In house staff on the elementary level as well as previous classroom teachers who were trained for several years.

TPS Chief Finance and Operations Officer Jorge Robles gave the financial and internal controls report. The TPS Finance team met with the OSDE Finance team on December 6; their next meeting is January 3 to review accounts payable items and bi-weekly meetings have been set to continue the collaboration.

TPS has contracted with and will begin implementation of a continuous monitoring and auditing platform.  This will detect fraud, improve efficiency, and streamline financial reporting.

Board comments and questions on the TPS presentation began with Superintendent Walters noting that the updates, especially the specific current data, have been helpful in showing where students are at this point in the year. 

Questions followed concerning Amira, a system to provide an on-the-spot reading tutor with the aid of AI. The concern was the need to prioritize having teachers or teacher assistance available to help keep children focused on the work, to answer questions and to help out when one student’s computer sounds are being picked up on another student’s computer.

Answers: TPS has a teacher table for students to read in real time, has teacher assistants walking around to help students and is working with Amira to correct the computer-to-computer interference.  More teacher assistants would be beneficial.

Superintendent Walters asked the final question which concerned some teacher retirement system questions that have been received by the state board.  Dr. Johnson answered that some of issues are in a level of litigation and that TPS will work with the retirement system to get this worked out.  She added that the issues have to do with the job titles of some employees possibly not being correct and with some employees having “opted out” of paying into retirement. She said that she would be happy to speak with Superintendent Walters privately in as much depth as she is able. He thanked her for her openness and said he would like to talk with her.

The agenda item concerning TPS, item 7, took up the vast majority of the board meeting.  The following briefly summarizes the remainder of the meeting, for those readers who are interested.

Five of the six state board members were present for the meeting, Superintendent Ryan Walters, Donald Burdick, Sarah Lepak, Katie Quebedeaux and Kendra Wesson.

Superintendent Walters reported that Oklahoma school choice tax credit appears to be popular since the system received 30,000 applications during the first thirty minutes it was available. He praised Christmas Break tutoring programs particularly noting TPS’s effort. He also expressed his aims to eliminate DEI programs from K-12 institutions in Oklahoma so that we do not create a culture of victimhood, to protect the religious freedoms of teachers, and to ensure that children are not exposed to inappropriate sexual expressions in school such as drag queens.

The board accepted the minutes of their November 11, 2023, meeting and then heard public comments. The three off-agenda comments were heard first. Each spoke negatively about Superintendent Walters. One said he is a bully, another said he is disrespectful to TPS Superintendent Dr. Johnson and should not express interest in supporting religious schools or curriculum, and the third gave him Fs and 1 D in various school subjects as well as in “classroom” behavior.

There followed seven on-agenda comments five of which, like the off-agenda comments, focused on Superintendent Walters. Three were negative calling him hostile, childish, irresponsible, and as promoting that lies about history be taught. Two expressed gratitude for what Walters is doing. Another speaker said that the requirements for TPS improvement are really saying that black students should do better which is bad. The president of TCTA asked the OSBE to work with TPS by providing clarity, consistency, resources, and unchanging guidelines.

There were four items on the consent agenda. Superintendent Walters asked if any board member had an item they want to “pull off” for further open board discussion. Board member Wesson, a member of the textbook committee, pulled off the item which asked the board to add Success with OAS Mathematics to the approved textbook list. She explained that the committee sees the book as not having enough content to be considered a “textbook” since it only provides for 100 days of instruction. She views it as an excellent supplemental text which a school is welcome to use as such. The vote was called and the request to approve the book as a textbook, was denied. The remainder of the consent docket was approved as stated in the agenda.

Seven items a – g under the heading Legal Services comprised the 8th and final agenda item. Items a through d were passed to the January meeting. Item e, the expansion of The Academy of Seminole, a charter school, to a new site in Okmulgee was unanimously passed.  Superintendent Hawthorne, of the Academy of Seminole, gave a thorough presentation including their financial standing and the plan for opening the additional site and adding grade levels each of the following years until the school served PreK -12 grades.

Item f was a technical report about the Sovereign Charter School exit audit. The board members listened and then acknowledged receipt of the audit. No other action was required. The final item g was to consider five teacher certification revocations pending since 2021. All five were pending because they were “no shows” (not contested). It was moved and seconded to accept the hearing officer’s recommendation of revocation. The motion passed unanimously.

The OSBE meeting adjourned three hours and 20 minutes after it began.  The next OSBE meeting will be January 25, 2024, at 9:30 am. and many will be watching.

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