Education

OPINION | What a bad school board member looks like to Black Tulsans

Tulsa Public Schools Board Member Jennettie Marshall of District 3 | Photograph by Nehemiah D. Frank

Author’s Note: I am fully aware that elected school board members should operate in the best interest of all children; however, this written opinion is about educational justice for black Tulsa children. 

Published 01/24/2020 | Reading Time 3 min 9 sec

By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, director & executive editor

The day after America celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Lurther King, Jr., I arrived at a school board meeting that would have had the late civil rights leader preaching about the nightmare that unraveled before his eyes if he were in attendance. He would have been disappointed that Tulsa Public Schools’ board member, Jennettie Marshall, voted to end the quest for educational justice for the public partnership school, Greenwood Leadership Academy, that has made academic excellence its black scholars’ mission as well as the goal for the rest of the students attending said school.

Not only that, the cognitive dissonance displayed by this only black school board member — who professes that she, herself, is an advocate for black children’s education — is distinctly revealing. She fought harder for the majority-white attended schools slated to close due to low enrollment and deteriorating structures while standing in total opposition to a high-quality school serving people who look like her.

Moreover, the school she was proposing to shut down, with her no vote, has the highest attendance rate, highest parent participation rate, the lowest suspension rates, and the most improved scores in Math and Reading to any comparable majority-black attended school in the district. Why would she — again, a black woman — want to shut down a school that has prided itself in educating its students about the legacy of Black Wall Street while simultaneously pushing its scholars to become more academically competitive to the likes of their white peers?

Did Marshall vote no because she is anti-school reform, even since people of color have hijacked the school reform movement from the bigoted-racists and white supremacists, so black kids can actually receive equal opportunities to become thoroughly-educated?

The school board member’s actions reveal the illuminating gap between the black leaders seeking school reform and the black leaders who believe that by remaining the course in status quo, that somehow and magically, black children will become equally, academically competitive as their white counterparts. 

I can tell you now — that it ain’t gonna happen. Like many of our ancestors abandoned ship during the middle passage, it’s long past time that black America leaves this sinking status quo that has suppressed black children from intellectually arriving into the promised land’s marina, docked and prepared to fight and achieve their American dream.

Marshall’s cognitive dissonance displayed at the board meeting was a painful sight of disharmony on public display for all the world to see that Tulsa’s black community is still not on one accord 52 years after Dr. King’s murder and 55 years after the death of Brother Malcolm X.

I don’t care if a school board member is black or white; they need to do right by America’s black children because it’s black children who have been treated unjustly in traditional American schools for far too long.

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Tulsa Public Schools Board Member Jennettie Marshall of District 3 receiving informational about progress occurring at Greenwood Leadership Academy from Andrea Castañeda, TPS’ chief innovation officer| Photograph by Nehemiah D. Frank

Moreover, we can’t get to educational justice when a school board member decides to be fiscally irresponsible. After receiving guidance on why school consolidations and closures made sense, this school board member still chose to vote no on closing the other schools. Furthermore, she continued targeting the partnership school that she seemingly believes operates too close and similar to a charter school — for her own liking.

I am of the opinion that her anti-charter and anti-school reform stance blinds her from seeing the bigger picture: That amid a state that doesn’t believe in funding public education, which is especially harmful to black children, school consolidation and closures lead to more opportunities for people of color and a chance at putting equity into practice because pupil dollars can be pooled together to support a single school instead of stretching resources thin in deteriorating buildings that continue to see lower student enrollment numbers.

I’m over slothful black leaders who misinform the black American public because they haven’t done thorough research and haven’t conducted enough site visits to public charters and partnership schools and damagingly spread their cognitive dissonance to others in the community and abroad.

And when they culturally throw shade by sipping tea at a school board meeting as black parents and black educators advocate for their school which is the embodiment of how the school reform movement works, all I can do is shake my head and apologize to Dr. King, Brother Malcolm, and all of our ancestors who fought and were too often denied the right to choose what type of liberation they’d like for their children to partake in.

This black school board member shadily sipped her tea and tried suppressing her own community’s voice by telling them, “NO” to the same choices that white folks have had since and before Brown v. Board of Education.

And that Black Tulsa is a damn shame.


Nehemiah FrankNehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, a digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. Other than the Black Wall Street Times, Frank’s work has been featured in Time Magazine, the Tulsa World, Education Post, Citizens Ed, and many other publications. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.

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Categories: Education