TPS Conversations Continue

Editor’s Note: In a recent opinion piece “Exposing TPS Special Interest Agenda” Jared Buswell wrote critically of the Tulsa Public School District. In response, Rachel, answered in the comment section beginning, “This article could not be more out of touch. I am a TPS parent and the majority board members do speak for me, they are working towards a public school system for ALL children.” This important community conversation should continue and here Buswell responds.

Opinion: Rachel, I am elated that your daughter is graduating from TPS with 36 college credits – what an achievement! 

I can relate to the work you’ve accomplished as a family and how thankful you must feel, as I was in a similar situation – as the student. The K-12 public education afforded me by caring teachers and public school supporters provided me opportunities to complete AP courses and enroll in the local university to finish Calculus 3 and Differential Equations – even back in the 90s when these pathways were less common. When I enrolled at Oral Roberts University, they awarded me exactly 36 college credits from work done in high school. I am forever grateful for my parents, administrators, and teachers who were flexible and generous enough to go out of their way to give me an education I didn’t know I needed.

As a teenager, though, I was disturbed by the disengagement many of my peers had with the subject matter we were learning. Much of the structure of how we design the classroom is not conducive to maximizing the potential of all the children and youth. The operation of public education in the United States worked very well for a personality like mine, but neglected the gifts and potential of most people. That disparity is not one I was content to ignore, because I FEEL the joy that is on the other side of really knowing what is true about the world.

When I set out to run for school board last year, it was because my attention was initially arrested by the horrific lockdown policy implemented by TPS leadership during the 2020-21 school year. Keeping kids out of in-person learning and the sports and arts activities that provide real skills and social growth ended up breaking trust in our institutions among this generation of young people, besides the academic setbacks and pressure on families who couldn’t afford the effects of social distancing as much as others.

After meeting voters in all 20 precincts of the TPS Board Election District 1, I quickly learned there are a wide variety of experiences with TPS. There was the father walking his dogs who spent thousands of dollars and a couple years of his time re-teaching his daughter to read, because she couldn’t after attending TPS. There was the mother who drives her children every day to Skiatook to attend a better public school. Then, there were the dozens of certified teachers who left teaching altogether because of a hostile work environment or routine ineffectiveness at TPS that prevented their ability to teach. One current teacher showed me the injuries she received that week from an out-of-control student whom TPS won’t allow to be disciplined. She also told me to look up her photo receiving a teaching award from Dr. Gist.

The Oklahoma School Report Cards (at that time) showed grade level proficiency in Math and Reading at Council Oak to fall around 65%. That’s very good, as the way these tests are scored is weighted in such a way that achieving 100% is not statistically possible. However, at the other elementary schools in District 1, the average proficiency is 10%. Those differences are within a public school system with the same superintendent, policies, curriculum, and resources. TPS isn’t working for all students, and I believe it can do better. The current leadership isn’t interested in talking about inequalities like these, because it doesn’t fit their control narrative. So how much less are they interested in the hard work of actually solving them?

I believe voters in D1 don’t know me well yet and don’t know Stacey Woolley well either. More time and dialogue like this one will help. My campaign also didn’t go negative, which almost never works when the other campaign does.

I think some of our goals are the same, namely to provide a quality education for all children regardless of their family background or neighborhood, from a professional team of well-paid educators working together to raise more children with success stories like yours. For now, we might still disagree on the current status of TPS, which is a very large institution affecting many people. I respect your experience as a TPS parent and have to hold your family’s successful experience into account. Your story is good news to my ears! I want to hear more stories like these. At the same time, I cannot ignore the many parents and teachers who are reporting different experiences that require some form of a solution.

Jared Buswell

Thank you for opening this conversation!


About the author: Jared Buswell previously ran for the Tulsa School Board and remains active on education issues with the group, Reform Tulsa. He is the Board Chairman of Favor International, a Christian Mission Organization serving war affected communities in North Africa. He may be reached by email by clicking here.

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