Education

Courageous north Tulsa teacher speaks truth to power in open letter to TPS Board

 

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Hanna Al-Jibouri, 3rd and 4th grade teacher at Gilcrease Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

“Most parents have long understood that kids don’t have the judgment, the maturity, the impulse control and insight necessary to make complicated lifelong decisions. Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.” — Bryan Stevenson 


An Open Letter to the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent

On February 8, 2019, Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon came to speak with the Gilcrease Elementary and ECDC Bunche staff about the proposal to consolidate our two teams into one and to be housed in the ECDC building.

Since that meeting, I have experienced an overwhelming rollercoaster of emotions, questions, concerns, and anticipations for what may be forthcoming for my school, its building, and most importantly, the community it resides in.

My name is Hanna Al-Jibouri. I am in my seventh year teaching at Gilcrease Elementary and consider it to be my second home. I am currently co-teaching in a 3rd and 4th grade multi-aged classroom with my best friend Nicole Powell who is a top 5 finalist for Tulsa Public School’s Teacher of the Year.

We have both been fortunate to build our dream classroom, being given autonomy in some of our curriculum choices as well as our classroom culture practices.

Through the innovation of our classroom, we have already had 75% of our class meet their projected MAP growth goals for this school year, achieved low suspension rates, and are anticipating very few, if any, RSA retentions at the end of this year.

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We also have a $10,000 slide that was custom built and installed into our classroom after we obtained grant money as well as money from donors and fundraisers to pay for this slide. The sole purpose of the slide is to bring joy to our students.

Many of them already feel a distaste for schooling, having been retained in 3rd grade before or for other reasons.

We hope to help our students rewrite what education can be for them.

Truth be told, I could go on and on about how lucky I am to have the colleagues and community at Gilcrease, but that is not the purpose of this letter.

In actuality, I have been warned and advised by many not to write this letter to you or other members of the Tulsa Public School Board of Education. They said it may be a waste of my time and that often times, decisions like these are already made before the voting even occurs at a board meeting.

But if I chose to believe that, and if I chose to stay silent on this matter, then that would also mean I chose to accept hopelessness. That would mean I go against the very lesson I attempt to teach my students every single day.

When I am not working as an educator for Tulsa Public Schools, I serve as the President of the Board for a nonprofit organization here in Tulsa called Poetic Justice.

I understand the difficulties that come with participating on a board, particularly with leading a board. Communication, decision making, and due diligence are just some of the important variables I have to consider when doing that work.

What has mattered largely to me in my work as President of the Poetic Justice is doing what is right.

Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who zealously defends Death Row inmates, is quoted saying, “the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” Much of what he practices can be related to work in education.

Specifically, I believe what he says accurately reflects the work that must be done for education in poor communities like North Tulsa.

I believe that the first step in treating the members of those communities with justice is by listening to them.

On February 26, 2019, Tulsa Public Schools superintendent Deborah Gist held a public meeting for the Gilcrease and ECDC communities to hear more about her proposal as well as give members of that community an opportunity to pose questions, comments, or concerns. Many voices were lifted that evening with a largely concerned tone about whether this proposal was the best thing for their students and families.

One member even asked the question of would there be transportation provided for families that wish to attend the board meeting to speak out on their concern to the board members. Dr. Gist mentioned that transportation in such a way has never been provided before, but that she would certainly look into it.

I hope all of the members of the Tulsa Public Schools board get to hear those voices from the North Tulsa community. More importantly, I hope those voices are listened to.

I will not stand before you and tell you I have all the answers to the problems and inequities that North Tulsans face when it comes to their educational well being.

But I can guarantee you that creating a major move approximately every seven years in this community only creates more harm and induces more trauma in an already mobile, unstable life for many of these children and their families.

I argue that what is best for kids will never be a newer renovated building, not the latest curriculum craze, not the most up to date technology, but that we have high-quality teachers in every single classroom who believe wholeheartedly that our students at Gilcrease can achieve as much as any other student in this school district.

And we believe it not because we have a core value of equity here at TPS and not because it makes us feel like we are appreciating diversity.

We do it because it is, without a doubt, the truth.

Undoubtedly, I recognize that some of the statistics I shared with you earlier about the successes I have seen in my own classroom are an anomaly in the Gilcrease building. But they are successes nonetheless.

I am confident I can continue to do great work regardless of what building I am in. So please understand when I say this is not about a building. Even further, this is not about me.

Rather, this is about a community who has already faced much transition over the eight years Gilcrease has been an elementary school.

Beyond that, North Tulsa has an unfortunate history of merging, consolidating, and closing schools for many decades.

I urge you to vote no on the recommendation for Gilcrease Elementary to be consolidated with ECDC Bunche into their building. Yes, I realize this is not the most fiscal or financially intelligent choice to make, but perhaps it is the most ethical move you can make. To allow our school to exist for more than the mere 8 years it has resided in this building.

Great things are happening here and I believe we are on the precipice of more greatness. But a move and shift right now would cause more of an upheave than it would a step in the right direction for this greatness to continue.

Many asked me if I would consider ECDC moving its staff and students to the Gilcrease building or if I am suggesting that both buildings stay open. After much deliberation, I decided I would not suggest either of those for the time being, but instead would focus my efforts on the first step being that I ask the board to vote no on the recommended proposal.

I hope those who advised me to not write a letter and to just accept that it is a done deal will be proven wrong and you all will decide this is not the right choice.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you.

Sincerely,
Hanna Al-Jibouri
Educator, Activist, and Advocate


I originally sent this letter privately to its addresses to which I got little or no response. Because I have been sitting in silence for nearly two weeks and do not feel I should sit by and wait for a response, I have decided this should be addressed for all to see why I oppose the most recent proposed changes to some of our North Tulsa students and the schools they attend.

If you would like to grab a coffee and chat more about this, I’d be happy to. This is something I am incredibly passionate about— those that know me know that I do not consider myself to be just only a teacher, but an activist for social justice. This, to me, is an issue that inherently aligns with the justice the North Tulsa Community deserves.


 

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Categories: Education