School changes vowed
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
3/26/08 at 8:07 AM
From Wednesday's Tulsa World: TAC's value questioned
Related Stories: School draws new attention :: New school called overcrowded, violent :: TPS to settle lawsuit filed by principal :: District reacts to alternative-school allegations :: TPS responds to accusations about alternative school :: TPS chief to address troubled school
Eleven improvements are outlined for an
alternative school that has come under fire.
Tulsa Superintendent Michael
Zolkoski on Monday announced a
host of improvements for the Tulsa
The new alternative school has
been derided by students, parents
and teachers as overcrowded and
the site of frequent violence.
Effective immediately, a moratorium will be placed on new student
referrals to the program from middle and high schools throughout
Tulsa, except in cases approved by
Zolkoski or Chief Academic Officer
Other changes include:
- A gradual phasing out of the
school's Term Academic Program,
beginning with consideration of
early release for all current students. In the future, all students
who would have been sent to the
term program will be assigned to in-house suspension at their home
- The establishment of a parent
advisory committee consisting of
parents of current students.
- A review of all special education students' records to ensure
compliance with federal law.
- The addition of personnel to
meet the school's special education,
security and clerical needs.
- A request for assistance from
the Tulsa Police Department's
Gang Task Force.
- A review of the school's counseling services.
- The assignment of a new
principal by April.
Zolkoski delivered his recommendations to the Tulsa
school board at a regularly
scheduled board meeting. He
said a newly formed "district
action team" of administrators
would oversee the changes
and that weekly updates
would be sent to board members.
The changes follow a series
of Tulsa World stories last
week detailing claims made by
two former students, Kenny
Hawkins and Tyler Marshall,
as well as three teachers and a
teaching assistant who spoke
on condition of anonymity.
Among other things, they
described daily physical fights
among students, frequent attacks on staff, student enrollment two times the size for
which the school was designed, limited classroom materials, and no access by classroom teachers to special
education students' Individual
Education Programs, which
include critical information
about the students' unique
School board President
Gary Percefull said that although several parents had
asked to address the board on
Monday night, no public comments could be heard because
the board was not being asked
to vote on the matter.
Percefull also read a statement from the school district's
attorney, Doug Mann, asking
board members to limit their
questions and comments to
Zolkoski's specific list of improvements.
Outside of the meeting,
Mann explained that he prepared the document to ensure
the board's compliance with
the Oklahoma Open Meetings
Act and because his law firm is
investigating several allegations that were publicized
about the Tulsa Academic
Board member Oma Jean
Copeland asked what considerations could be made "for
children who are not able to
conform to the traditional
Zolkoski responded by saying the Tulsa Academic Center was created in part to reduce the number of students
on out-of-school suspension.
He said there were about
9,000 suspensions in 2005-06,
the academic year before he
arrived in August 2006, compared to an anticipated 5,000
suspensions in 2007-08.
"We do want to cut suspensions because we want kids to
be in school," Zolkoski said.
"There will be closer scrutiny
of . . . how people are sent
over there, but we don't want
to go back to our old ways of
suspending everyone. We
want to make sure we save as
many kids as we can."
Member Matt Livingood
said he was concerned that
the Tulsa Academic Center
was being employed as a punitive measure for students,
rather than as a place for them
to learn social skills.
He urged Zolkoski to "use
this as a catalyst" for beginning a comprehensive review
of all of the school district's alternative education programs
and to seek out assistance and
input from juvenile justice authorities and the public at
large, not just "internal action
teams and parent advisory
Member Ruth Ann Fate responded to Livingood's concern about the seemingly punitive nature of the program
by recounting an occasion she
had for attending a student release ceremony at the school.
"Dr. Z very carefully let
these students know that this
is not shown anywhere on
their school record," Fate
Member Brian Hunt said he
was glad to see some "short-term fixes proposed," given
that just a couple of months of
school are left.
He also said, "I believe there
really is a larger issue of discipline management at our
home schools," and he suggested that alternative education include "a variety of choices."
Percefull said that for two
years now, the board has designated "discipline management" as Zolkoski's top priority for improvement.
He said he looked forward
to hearing more recommendations from Zolkoski at a board
retreat April 5.
After the meeting, Muriel
Doyle approached Zolkoski
about her willingness to serve
on the new parent advisory
Doyle's daughter Lauren,
who accompanied her to the
meeting, was sent to the Tulsa
Academic Center's Performance Training Program
about a month ago for fighting
at Edison Preparatory School.
"I feel the program could be
more successful if the parents
were on board," she said.
Andrea Eger 581-8470