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By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and editor-in-chief
In August, the highly anticipated Greenwood Leadership Academy opened its doors to the North Tulsa community in partnership with Tulsa Public Schools. We checked in with Greg Robinson, their Community Organizer, to give us an update on this new school of excellence.
Laying the Foundation and the Culture for a Great Community School
Nehemiah: How is the team [GLA Staff] adjusting?
Greg: With any startup organization, there is a component that is building the ship and flying it too. So for instance with our staff we bring in 21 new staff everyone is starting at the same time, both the staff and the administration.
Nehemiah: Growing Pains?
Greg: We went through a growing period where we had to all, as a team, adjust our normal tendencies to look to someone else for an answer because the answers lie in us. And that’s kind of the culture we have fought internally to sustain is really taking this founding title very seriously.
For instance, Kojo [the Founding Principal of Greenwood Leadership Academy] isn’t a principal, he’s a founding principal. Ms. Shannon Isaacs isn’t just an Assistant Principal, she’s the Founding Assistant Principal. Endya Clark and Janee Hardy are not just pre-K teachers they are the Founding Pre K teacher for Greenwood Leadership Academy.
Transforming the Narrative
Nehemiah: How do you transform the narrative amid North Tulsa stigma?
Greg: When you talk about transforming a narrative and changing a narrative, that is not something that you get to say and then just watch happen. It is a day by day, decisions by decision battle that you have to have internally with yourself, you have to have with the students in your classroom, and you have to have with the families that are bringing these students into our building every day.
We have struggled and fought and continue to develop different avenues and programming that can address the shortcomings that exist historically within our community for the child and the parents.
Holistic Approach to Education
Nehemiah: What is the approach/ direction the school is moving toward?
Greg: We understand that in order to change the narrative, to transform the community, is a holistic process.
We’ve established a Parent Advisory Council that has pointed out from their standpoint our mistakes from everything to the dismissal process that needed to be more efficient and safe for everyone involved, to uniforms that include ties that maybe little kids, especially our little boys, that are likely to pull on their ties or white shirts that can easily become blemished.
Establishing that Parent Advisory Council and giving them the space to say those things and then acting on their suggestions has made us stronger.
We established a parent education program that is geared towards providing academic support for parents based on behavioral support and introducing them to organizing and advocacy so they can support their kids at home and also fight for their kids to have a better experience growing up. We’re excited. It’s not just about educating the child; it’s about educating the entire family.
Organizing and Advocacy
Nehemiah: What do you mean by involvement? Are you teaching the parents to become more civically engaged?
Greg: How we think about involvement is through the lens of organizing. Organizing isn’t telling people what to do; organizing is building power in people so that they can decide what they want to see happen.
We don’t have a national tilt, more than a local tilt. We have an internal tilt.
What we are trying to do in Parent Academy is introduce the foundational skills of organizing which is about building power within yourself; finding out what makes you angry and building relationships with other parents to begin addressing some of these issues. I’m excited to see what they decide to address.
We believe in holistic education, which is support for the whole family.
Nehemiah: Do you have community partners?
Greg: We have Workforce Tulsa that can provide economic opportunities for our parents. We’ve partnered with Teach Not Punish, Breaking Cycles, and OSU Tulsa that provides extensions and additional support for children and their families.
Holistic Approach to Discipline
Nehemiah: What happens when a child needs to be disciplined?
Greg: We work with our behaviorist T’erra Estes, Director of Teach Not Punish. She has work to train our teachers internally on restorative practices with our kids. She’s able to step into the classroom and provide lessons for our children and also pull out our babies that need additional support and need additional attention. So what we try to do is create an individualized plan for those kids. So we bring the parents in. We meet with them. We talk about the process that we’re working through with their child, and then it’s a team process. It’s a partnership between the teacher in the classroom, our Behavior Support Specialist, and our parents to create this holistic support system for the child.
For more information on Greenwood Leadership Academy visit their website here:www.greenwoodleadershipacademy.org
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder & Editor in Chief of the Black Wall St. Times. Frank is also the Co-Producer of the up and coming “Black Coffee” and Co-Producer of the “Dominic Durant Sports Show.” He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL in General Studies, and earned a 2nd degree in Political Science from Oklahoma State University. Frank is a middle school History and English teacher, a writer for Education Post, and has been nationally recognized for his activism work on NBC and Blavity. Nehemiah dedicates most of his time to empowering and uplifting his community and was recently awarded as a Terence Crutcher Foundation Honoree.