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OPINION | By Nehemiah D. Frank, Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Every spring, students from across Tulsa County anxiously await letters from Oklahoma’s top-performing public magnet schools.
For most African-American students living in North Tulsa, Carver Middle School and Booker T. Washington High School are the premier choice. As a matter of fact, they’re considered the only option.
Because students who don’t get into these two schools quickly slip into depression, thinking their lives are over. They shut down, even if they’ve scored as advanced on state and national standardized tests. They become emotionally closed off when they don’t read or hear the words “We accept ____________ to the Carver Middle School or Booker T. Washington family”.
For North Tulsa students, the saying goes.
It’s “Carver Middle School or Bust”
It’s “Booker T. Washington High School or bust.”
Well, that’s at least the feeling that students have when they’re in the waiting stage.
But if your child receives a rejection letter, the cloud of depression instantly appears as a dark cloud over the entire house. And like clockwork, the tears began to fall as the student seed themself as unworthy.
Why does it have to be “Magnet or Bust” for our black kids?
Furthermore, parents and teachers are emotionally affected when they hear the sad news that their kids didn’t get in.
Photo Credit by The Guardian Girl
So, why is a rejection letter so painful for North Tulsa parents, teachers, and most importantly , the student?
Because blighted second-class schools surround the two high-quality magnet schools. The racial demographic for the majority of public schools in North Tulsa is predominantly African American. These schools have consistently and chronically performed at unacceptable levels.
McLain High School had a 60-percent graduation rate last year, which is better than previous years. However, 40-percent of the students didn’t graduate last year.
African-American students who don’t graduate with at least a high school diploma have a higher chance of ending up in an Oklahoma public or private prison.
Now, we can see why black kids and parents are so alarmed, terrified, and even devastated upon receiving the unfortunate news they didn’t get in. These alarming rates are also the reason why parents are opting out of public schools and looking to charter schools or grants/ scholarships for private schools to send their children.
Impact Tulsa recently released numbers claiming that African-American middle schoolers are only 7-percent proficient in math.
2017 Tulsa Impact Math Proficiency Data on TPS Schools
Only 15-percent of African-American third-graders in Tulsa are proficient in reading. According to the Impact Tulsa website, “Nationally, 75-percent of students not reading by third-grade never catch up”.
2017 Tulsa Impact Reading Proficiency Data on TPS Schools
But why the low academic performance?
Why aren’t our precious kids learning out North?
Why isn’t TPS teaching our babies?
Why is TPS focusing more resources on the “mid-town money belt” and the South Tulsa schools?
Most of the resources — including the best teachers — get sent to the schools in the wealthiest neighborhoods or the magnet schools. As a result, most black kids will never get the privilege of being in the presence of a well-trained teacher with years of experience as a result of the fast turnover of Northside teachers.
Many parents across Tulsa will blame Northside parents and deem them irresponsible for misbehaved children, truancy, or bad grades, not understanding the systemic problems Northside parents and guardians continue to face as an overlooked minority group.
The stigmatization of North Tulsa schools seemingly becomes legit when academic performance reports get published, and the majority of traditional North Tulsa schools boast “F’s” (with the exception of the two magnet schools and a few charters). If they don’t get in, they look to transferring to Union or the suburbs.
What if Booker T. Washington’s alumni supported the other schools?
What if the wealthy funders of Booker T. Washington’s PTA and TPS focused efforts on the other schools as well?
What if TPS and other Alumni promoted parent engagement classes to help with school support?
Are we not our brother’s keeper or have we as Black people and a society as a whole forgotten the village mentality?
Are we “One Tulsa” or are we a society that focuses on tribalism based on race and classism?
In time, the future will expose the secrets of our hearts.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder & Executive Editor of the Black Wall St. Times. Frank graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL in General Studies, and earned a Political Science degree from Oklahoma State University. He is highly involved in community activism, a middle school teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts, a blogger for Education Post, and dedicates most of his time to empowering and uplifting his community of North Tulsa, home to America’s Black Wall Street. Frank is a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation Honoree and the Community Impact Award for the MET Cares Foundation and has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. Frank recently gave a TEDx Talk at the University of Tulsa.