District reacts to alternative-school allegations
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
3/20/08 at 11:30 AM
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TPS responds to accusations about alternative school
Several Tulsa school board members, parents, and a state expert in
alternative education reacted Tuesday to allegations of crowding and
physical violence at a new alternative school.
Brian Hunt, who was elected to
represent District 5 on the school
board in February, said he contact
ed district administrators after
reading the Tulsa World's report
Tuesday about the Performance
Training Program at the Tulsa Academic Center.
"I learned that a range of ideas,
including but not limited to a moratorium on all new student referrals
to TAC, as well as adding more staff
such as security guards and a
scheduling clerk in the interim, are
being considered," Hunt said.
"The program had been a concern to me during my campaign,
and I'm looking forward to seeing
some proactive solutions," he added.
Superintendent Michael Zolkoski
founded the Tulsa Academic Center in August after closing four other alternative schools: the Pershing
Alternative Center, the Phoenix
Center, the Lindsey Learning Academy and the Twilight Academy.
Zolkoski said he wanted
to streamline alternative education offerings in the Tulsa district, and he criticized
the existing programs for
having a student return rate
of 40 percent.
Zolkoski was returning
from an out-of-state vacation
Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.
Janice Jones of the Tulsa
Public Schools public information office said Rick Palazzo, director of alternative
programs, would be available for questions after he
meets with Zolkoski on
A teacher at the school
and two former students
told the Tulsa World that
physical fights among students are daily occurrences
and that staff members are
The teacher, who asked
not to be named, also said
that as many as 25 new students are referred to the
program every week from
middle and high schools
Gary Lytal, assistant to
the superintendent for accountability and research,
estimated that about 300
students are at the Tulsa Academic Center, but as many
as 100 more could still be on
the school's roll "due to a
backlog of incoming and
"We're working very diligently to come up with exact numbers as we can,
even though it's in constant
fluctuation," Lytal said.
"Kids are referred there all
the time, but it may be a
week to 10 days before they
show up. In some cases,
they never show up, and
then they are dropped"
from the rolls.
School board member
Matt Livingood, who represents Memorial High
School and its feeder pattern, said the allegations of
crowding and violence raise
several questions for him.
"Are we adequately
staffed to meet the needs of
the students that are sent
there, and do we have a
good understanding of
when it is appropriate to refer a student to the program?" he asked.
Livingood said he has
been expecting TPS to review the program's effectiveness because it is new
and unlike any other program in the district.
"Last year, a larger number of folks were suspended
out of school, and one of the
goals of this program was to
reduce that number, so we
shifted that balance," he
Reportedly, the number
of suspensions in TPS
through February was
3,700, compared with nearly
6,000 during the same August to February period in
Kathy McKean is the director of the Oklahoma
Technical Assistance Center and a leading expert in
the field of alternative education in the state.
She said research has
shown that disciplinary or
punitive models of alternative schools are not as effective in reducing dropouts as
ones that offer students a
less-traditional school environment and small class sizes.
"There are two models
that have won national
awards sitting right there in
Tulsa County," she said.
"They're Street School and
the Union Alternative Center.
"If a district is establishing a new program or would
like to improve an existing
one, we're there to help
them," McKean said.
She added that grants are
available to alternative
schools that meet the 17 criteria established in Oklahoma statutes. The first component is student-teacher
ratios that are conducive to
effective learning for at-risk
Kelly Hawkins, the father
of an Edison Preparatory
School senior who dropped
out of the program after he
was threatened by a gang
member, questioned the
"When you have kids
with social difficulties, the
thing to do is isolate them
as individuals a bit and try
to get them some help,"
Hawkins said. "You don't
throw them into the seventh
circle of hell and expect
them to rise above it."
The mother of another
student, who left the program after a few days in favor of a long-term suspension, said the program adds
to troubled youths' burdens.
The woman, who asked
not to be named, sobbed as
she described how she and
her husband had no indication that their son was using
marijuana until school officials found a small amount
of it in his car.
"This was the first discipline offense of his entire
life and a common problem
facing several families today," she said. "I don't expect this to be overlooked
or an easy way out, but I
don't expect it to be compounded . . . by a system we
have paid to support.
"He was only there for
four days, and he called every day and said he was
afraid for his life."
Andrea Eger 581-8470
Brian Hunt: “The
program had been
a concern to me,”
says the new