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By Nehemiah D. Frank
Greg Robinson, founding director of Family & Community Ownership for the METCares Foundation, said he joined Greenwood Leadership Academy and METCares because he believes in the mission, which is to change the life outcomes for North Tulsa students and their families.
“Greenwood Leadership Academy didn’t start because there were incredible things going on in North Tulsa’s public schools,” said Robinson.
According to the Impact Tulsa 2017 Community Impact report:
- In 2017, only 7% of African American students in the Tulsa Public School system were proficient in mathematics.
- In 2017, only 15% of African American 3rd graders in the TPS system were proficient or advanced in reading. Currently, African American students have the lowest proficiency in reading among all race cohorts in TPS.
- In 2016, only 42% of African American students entering kindergarten were reading.
Since the report, TPS has made tremendous strides towards closing the achievement gap but still has a long journey ahead in building a more equitable district for its students and support staff.
While TPS continues to make improvements, the school district itself will admit that it has its daily struggles. No major educational institution in America is without flaws.
A few months ago, a special needs child was placed in a locker at Greenwood Leadership Academy by a staff member. The school’s administrative staff took action immediately.
The staff member who committed the misconduct no longer works for the school. GLA also removed all lockers from the school. And the school released a statement to the community.
Dr. Ray Owens, founder of the METCares Foundation and GLA board member, addressed the TPS board, stating: “The individual’s actions do not align with the mission and the vision of GLA.”
“No systematic evidence of systemic fault was found,” said TPS Chief Innovation Officer Andrea Castañeda.
Several teachers and parents also spoke in favor of Greenwood Leadership Academy, encouraging all TPS board members to renew GLA’s contract.
Jeanette Marshall, an African American TPS board member whose district mainly consists of North Tulsa schools, is to all appearances anti-Greenwood Leadership Academy and has been since the school received its first contract from TPS.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Mrs. Marshall via email, but she declined to comment. We eventually managed to get in touch with her via telephone. She referred us back to the Service Center after informing us that she needed to receive permission from the Service Center to make a public statement.
However, that didn’t stop Mrs. Marshall from overly criticizing the school’s teachers and staff who had nothing to do with the incident nor could have prevented it from happening.
“The recent events at GLA reveal the lack of safety for students and the blatant disregard for state and federal regulatory guidelines concerning special needs students and students with disabilities,” said Jeanette Marshall.
Andrea Castañeda, who supports GLA’s renewal, countered Mrs. Marshall’s statement by saying, “After hours of review of investigations and interviews, it seems that this was a single incident and Greenwood Leadership Academy has dealt with it.”
The irony is that Greenwood Leadership Academy has the highest concentration of African American teachers within the district. And many of the families that support Greenwood Leadership Academy voted for Mrs. Marshall during the School Board race.
Clickhereto watch TPS School Board Meeting.
“We want to emphasize our respect for Jeanette Marshall as a member of this community and the Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education, and appreciate her commitment to our children and families,” said Ashley Philippsen, executive director of the METCares Foundation. “Additionally, we are committed to improving on our areas of growth and building on our strengths so that we may continue toward our mission of transforming the academic and social-emotional outcomes for North Tulsa students.”
The MetCares Foundation Wakanda Summit| Photo Courtesy of the BWSTimes
The Quest for Equity
Mrs. Marshall’s opposition comes while TPS makes an effort to search for more teachers of color so that black and brown students can see teachers who look like them.
TPS believes in equity and diversity. Any vote against Greenwood Leadership Academy would be a vote against TPS’s own mission in closing the equity gap between North Tulsa students and the rest of TPS students throughout the district.
Last year, Jeanette Marshall was the only board member opposing the partnership between TPS and Greenwood Leadership Academy. She appears to be anti-public partnership schools and anti-public charter schools even though students at public charter schools and partnership schools outperform most traditional school students.
A High Performing School for North Tulsa
The roughly 165 students at Greenwood Leadership Academy are already outperforming area traditional schools in Tulsa. GLA is quickly becoming a high performing school in the entire Tulsa area, with higher performances in mathematics, higher levels of attendance and more parent-teacher involvement, all of which the school highly encourages.
Mrs. Philippsen informed The Black Wall Street Times that “Greenwood Leadership Academy’s goal was to open with 180 students in grades Pre-K through 1st grade, with the goal of 85% of enrollment from within a subsection of the northwest portion of Tulsa. As of May 1st, approximately 75% of students attending Greenwood Leadership Academy live within this target geography.”
The table below shows enrollment trends over the past three years for Academy Central Elementary School and Greenwood Leadership Academy. The 2017-2018 school year shows the contribution that Greenwood Leadership Academy has made to attracting and retaining neighborhood students while serving students from other parts of the city at the same time.
The chart below presents Greenwood Leadership Academy’s average daily attendance, by grade level, compared with geographically adjacent and/or demographically similar schools. Greenwood Leadership Academy’s attendance exceeds the average for demographically comparable schools and is amongst the highest district-wide in kindergarten and 1st grade.
Tulsa Public Schools administers NWEA-MAP three times per year. In mathematics, 60% of Greenwood Leadership Academy students reached their growth targets, which significantly exceeds the average in demographically similar schools (50%). In reading, 49% of Greenwood Leadership Academy students reached their growth goals, which is slightly below the average for demographically similar schools (50%).
GLA also prides itself on cultural excellence which fosters equity for African American children, even down to their curriculum. TPS students perform better and are empowered when they see the diversity of members in their community represented throughout their curriculum and at the head of their classrooms.
Without partnership schools like Greenwood Leadership Academy, some African American students could end up back in low performing schools that surround Greenwood Leadership Academy. These students, especially African American students, have a higher probability of landing on the infamous school-to-prison pipeline at a lower performing school. Oklahoma currently ranks at the top in the nation for incarceration.
Moreover, students of color currently attending Greenwood Leadership Academy will have fewer chances of being exposed to African American teachers who look like them should GLA’s contract not be renewed. Statistics show that when African American students are exposed to African American teachers, it increases the likelihood that the students behave better, perform better on standardized tests, and will attend college.
Greg Robinson addressed to the Tulsa Public School Board, explaining that “Greenwood Leadership Academy is addressing a need” in the North Tulsa community.
Greenwood Leadership Academy is the only school that has a Parent and Community Action Team (PCAT). PCAT is a civic engagement cohort based on the fundamentals of organizing and movement-building to develop socio-political power and skills, something education advocates and North Tulsa families badly need.
The school, in a partnership with the METCares Foundation, recently held a Building Wakanda Summit. The purpose of the summit was to encourage the community to be more involved with local schools and civic activities. In attendance at the summit were, among community members and leaders, State Rep. Regina Goodwin, City Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper, and African American Affairs Commission Vice Chair Kristi Williams.
We’ve included photographs from the Wakanda Summit below:
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018.