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OPINION | by Nehemiah D. Frank
The North Tulsa Educational Task Force doesn’t believe the new changes in the leadership at Monroe Demonstration Academy are working.
Some North Tulsa Educational Taskforce members, as well as Monroe Demonstration Academy teachers and the community, don’t feel that Rex Langley, the school’s new principal, is a good fit for the majority black and brown school.
Langley is white and is from Oologah, Oklahoma, a town that’s black demographic is less than 1%.
The community, and some Task Force members have, expressed that Rob Kaiser, the school’s assistant principal, would be a better fit at the helm of Monroe.
[Editor’s Note: No relation to George Kaiser]
TPS, however, has a process of how they choose school principals: An assistant principal is promoted to interim principal at a school and serves for one year before becoming a principal at a TPS school.
It’s important to note that Langley didn’t apply to be principal of Monroe. He applied to be a principal of a TPS school but was placed at Monroe.
I personally disagree with this method or policy as the effects of this procedure may adversely affect communities of color.
When dealing with communities that have been the victims of racial suppression and oppression, building relationships and community trust is essential.
Kaiser, who is also white, has served as Monroe’s assistant principal for the past two years; furthermore, he’s earned the needed-credibility to lead Monroe by gaining trust and respect from the north Tulsa community, its teachers, staff, and most importantly the Monroe students — all while being white. Kaiser won the Tulsa Public Schools District Teacher of the Year award in 2016.
Meanwhile, Langley became the interim principal at Monroe when the former principal, Kiana Smith, accepted a position at Tulsa Legacy Charter Schools in 2017, a free public charter school sponsored by Tulsa Public Schools.
Before taking the position at Monore, Langley served as the assistant principal at East Central High School for 3-years — a majority Latinx school with a black student population around 38%.
Langley has the administrative experience but not necessarily the social experience.
Before that, Langley taught for 5-years at the same school and even became Teacher of the Year at East Central. That’s to say he’s a great educator who has the potential to lead a school with a majority black and brown student demographic but not necessarily in North Tulsa and not necessarily at Monroe — at this time.
The Task Force had requested to meet with the teachers at Monroe, but that didn’t happen until just recently — after the Board of Education voted to consolidate and close schools in North Tulsa to expand Monroe.
The teachers, and some Task Force members, blame Langley and TPS superintendent, Dr. Deborah Gist, for the lack of transparency between the Task Force and the teachers.
Moreover, Monroe teachers say that a lack of transparency has been an issue since Langley became the interim principal of their community school, which is the source of their frustration.
We all know that change is difficult, especially when you’re trying to fill the shoes and vacuum of a strong, educated black woman who has similar lived experiences with those of the students, staff, and community which allows for her to better connect and communicate with the black students and black teachers.
But that’s not an excuse for Langley just because he’s white. Kaiser has the respect of the black community and doesn’t necessarily share the same lived experiences of the students and staff he is serving and is still well-liked and received by many.
That’s to say, the way Ms. Smith converses with a black teacher may not necessarily be the same way Langley should.
Furthermore, Kaiser is intentional about building relationships with the students and the community.
Langley can still do this but must do so genuinely, and understand the different cultural and social dynamics between East Central and Monroe and the neighborhoods said schools reside in.
A black teacher may feel that the leadership, who’s in a position of power, plus privilege (white privilege), may be perceived as coming across as dry, apathetic, or even cold towards a teacher’s, staff member’s, or student’s concerns.
Hence, affirming your students and staff is of the utmost importance.
A white person in leadership, like a principal, may not realize that the social conflict he or she is having with the black teacher may be a matter of cultural competency and not necessarily a case of insubordination.
The same sticky dynamic can unfold, causing friction between a man in a position of leadership, regardless of race, and a woman who operates under his direction.
Unfortunately, both parties could make the situation worst if they are unaware of the racialized or gender social dynamics unfolding while navigating in their socially unconscious roles.
Hence, the phrase “Get woke; stay woke.”
Therefore, leaders must understand that being social and gender-conscious is key, and cultural competency always matters when you are a white person in the position of leadership within a majority-black environment.
Kaiser seemingly understands this, which is why he has experienced little to no friction with the teaching staff and students at Monroe.
A desire, of wanting to feel more comfortable in one’s work environment, may drive a leader to hire more people of his or her, own, race or gender or hire people he or she may feel will obey their every command without question.
Hence, they may unconsciously and selfishly develop an objective to want to make their environment more comfortable for themselves rather than for the students, which may lead to the hiring of a certain race or a particular gender.
Hence, Monroe staff have expressed their concerns for Langley’s new hires.
In his defense, however, he said that he doesn’t plan to let any of his current staff members go and hopes everyone returns to Monroe so they can fulfill the vision of the school.
Besides the change in leadership, Monroe is currently undergoing a hard transition.
Upon the closing of two elementary schools, Gilcrease and William Penn, coupled with the shuttering of the McClain 7th grade center, Monroe will experience a tense influx of students this fall — expanding the student population from around 300 students to 900.
Furthermore, TPS estimates that the school’s Latinx population will grow by 30% or 40%, which makes for an interesting shift in the school’s cultural-racial dynamic.
One teacher has already expressed concerns, stating that students are already discussing “what set [gang] they are from.”
Monroe teachers agree with the teachers from Gilcrease that the transition and decisions were made too quickly and without the voice and concerns of all students and teachers involved in this development.
Teachers at Monroe have expressed that the culture of their school has already felt stripped since Langley’s arrival and have communicated to the Black Wall Street Times that they fear being targeted if they speak publicly about their concerns regarding TPS’s leadership recommendations for their school.
My hope is that Dr. Deborah Gist takes into consideration the request of the North Tulsa Educational Task Force, Monroe educators, and community members when making decisions about who gets to lead and educate our children in North Tulsa.
I wholeheartedly believe that Monroe Demonstration Academy can be a top performing school in the state of Oklahoma but not without accepting and implementing the advice from those who are most proximate to the situation — the students, educators, and the north Tulsa community.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, and Community Advisory Board Member for the Tulsa World.