By: Nate Morris, senior editor
TULSA, OK – For nearly ninety minutes, a packed room at the Tulsa Public Schools Education Service Center sat at rapt attention as speaker after speaker approached the podium to share the work and recommendations from the North Tulsa Education Task Force.
The task force, approved by Superintendent Deborah Gist and put together by Tulsa Schools Board Member Rev. Jennettie Marshall, was convened to ensure that the community was given a voice in the future of McLain Seventh Grade Academy.
After months of what was described by task force chairman Rev. M.C. Potter as “tireless work” by committee members, the group finally presented its recommendation to the board.
The most significant recommendation? Move all 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in the McLain feeder pattern to Monroe Demonstration Academy, turning it into Monroe Middle School starting in August of 2019.
Citing what the task force described as “unacceptable” test scores and high numbers of alternatively certified educators throughout North Tulsa schools, Jolly Meadows told the crowd that the dramatic shift would “reinforce the District’s guiding principals and core values”.
If approved by the board, the proposal would shutter McLain 7th Grade Academy at the end of the school year, repurposing it as a “Parent Resource Community Center” focusing on “opportunities that enable parents to support their child’s education”.
The Junior High in the McLain High School building would also cease to exist in May and any rising 6th, 7th or 8th grade students in the McLain feeder pattern would be enrolled in a newly consolidated Monroe Middle School.
The plan for consolidation with Monroe Demonstration Academy (initially opened to provide North Tulsa families with a magnet middle school option similar to Thoreau Demonstration Academy in South Tulsa) was unclear. The task force did recommend that the body continue in an advisory capacity to oversee the enactment of the recommendations.
Members of the task force, comprised of educators, religious leaders and community advocates, all spoke fervently in support of the work presented to the board and called on board members to vote “yes”.
“We are dedicated to strong, authentic community actions – not just words”, said Clarence Boyd, speaking to the standing room only crowd. “Our goal is to advocate for all parties and help direct the overall student experience.”
Laura Grisham, a teacher at the current McLain Seventh Grade Academy, spoke passionately in calling for change for her students.
“The community deserves a school that is empowering young people to create a better world,” Grisham said, “Leaving North Tulsa as it is would be a disservice to our students and our community.”
While language from at least one speaker seemingly painted some students in a negative light, Grisham emphasized that she was “honored” to teach at ‘Mac7’, stating “our students are scholars, they are athletes, they are awkward, awkward middle schoolers and they are dreamers and doers.”
One of the final speakers of the evening, longtime community member and advocate Jane Malone, called on the larger Tulsa community to embrace this issue facing North Tulsa students and work collectively to fight for change.
“All children should have the same opportunity to success,” Malone said, “All children can learn, if given the opportunity.”
While the end of the presentation was met with applause and a standing ovation from many in the room, an uncertain pause was palpable from members of school communities who would also be directly affected by the proposal.
It was not initially clear if administrators or educators from schools throughout the McLain feeder pattern that will see dramatic changes if the recommendations are enacted (including Monroe Demonstration Academy) were consulted as a part of the task force’s work.
As community members and education leaders must now seek consensus around the proposed plan, one theme was evident throughout the room: something must change and the entire city is responsible for making that change happen.
“These children are ours,” said Malone, gesturing to the room during her speech, “not yours, not mine, not theirs. Ours. They are our children.”
Nate Morris is the senior editor of the Black Wall Street Times. Nate was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and moved to Tulsa in 2012 after graduating from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He received his Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2015. Nate is a Teach for America alumnus and has worked in schools throughout the Tulsa area.