Teachers at TAC willing to stay
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008
3/28/08 at 7:43 AM
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They said they have been inundated with more than twice the students they were hired to handle.
They said they have been assaulted by students with fists, flying staplers, books, desks and more curse
words than they can count.
They said they have been given
one or two sets of textbooks with
which to teach as many as seven different courses.
They said they have been threatened by Tulsa Superintendent Michael Zolkoski with holding their
teaching credentials so they could
not leave for other districts.
Despite all they said they have endured and witnessed at the Tulsa Academic Center in 2007-08, nearly all
of the teachers and staff members
interviewed by the Tulsa World said
they and many of their colleagues are committed to remaining there for another
year -- if improvements are
"If we had the right support,
we could probably make this
program better," one employee said.
Another one said, "Believe it
or not, I really enjoy working
there -- because I think I can
help some of these kids. It
(the program) definitely could
work, but it's insane."
Denzel Kesterson, president of the Tulsa Classroom
Teachers Association, said his
union has been communicating the concerns and complaints of TAC teachers to Tulsa Public Schools
administrators since November.
It was that month, he said,
that he and another union representative, Linda Hendrix,
sat in on a school faculty meeting with Zolkoski.
Teachers told Zolkoski that
the school was dangerous and
that student enrollment and
class sizes were quickly becoming larger than the total of
150 students and student-teacher ratio of about 15-to-1
for which they had signed on.
"The teachers told him the
numbers were not conducive
to an educational environment. He said he didn't care
how many students were sent.
It's been so long, I can't recall
the exact number (he told
them)," Kesterson said.
But the teachers remember.
They all said Zolkoski told
them they had to make the
new program work even if 800
students were at the school,
and that he would hold their
teaching certificates so they
could not leave during the
"That's true," Kesterson
said. "And it's not uncommon,
because he can."
Kesterson said state law allows districts to hold a teacher's certificate for the remainder of a school year. He said it
most commonly is used to discourage teachers from leaving
hard-to-fill teaching positions,
such as special education,
math and science.
"We have to advise them
(the teachers) that yes, by law,
they can (hold your certificate). It's their livelihood," he
TCTA representatives persisted in reporting the situation at the school, he said.
"We have been talking to
the area superintendents all
year about the attacks on
teachers. I don't think there
has been a month that we
haven't brought up the fear
out at TAC," he said. "I don't
think there was sufficient response at first. I think they
were concerned, but they
didn't know how to get the
help out there that they needed."
Zolkoski on Monday vowed
a host of improvements at the
The changes follow a series
of Tulsa World stories last
week that detailed claims
made by several teachers and
a teaching assistant who
spoke on condition of anonymity, as well as former TAC students Kenny Hawkins and Tyler Marshall.
The teachers said some
changes already have started.
Many students, including
some who have special education needs, are being sent
back to their home schools.
Two new security guards
are on duty. A new clerk is
working in the office. Drill instructors have been leading
But other things remain the
The teachers said a serious
fight broke out in a bathroom
on Thursday between two
girls who were referred to the
school for fighting at their
home schools. Another student threw a book at a teacher.
Teaching assistants who
should be helping teachers in
the classrooms are doing other tasks. One has been answering phones in the office;
another has been greeting visitors at the entrance.
The teachers said they want
to know why help did not
come sooner, and they want to
know why no one has asked
them what they still need to
make the school succeed.
"Now we should be able to
move forward, but as far as I'm
concerned, it's not an issue of
the process taking time. It's an
issue of having clear-cut goals,
smaller class sizes, and committing the staff and other resources necessary to achieving those goals," one teacher
said. "We all want it to work,
but it's still an impossible situation."
Kesterson is making sure
teachers know they now have
the right to request a transfer
to another school.
The teachers' employment
contract states that they do
not have to wait a total of three
years before requesting a
transfer within the district if
their school's principal changes. TAC Principal Raushan
last week as part of a settlement of his lawsuit against
Chief Human Resources Officer Bill Naftzger confirmed
"If they so desired, they certainly can put their name on
the transfer list. As principals
look to fill vacancies from inside the district, those candidates will be considered, and
they can also designate a particular school they're interested in," Naftzger said.
"Stability is a good thing --
for the students, for the
school, and it's good for the
teachers -- but at the same
time, content employees are a
good thing, too," he added.
Andrea Eger 581-8470
vowed to improve
The Tulsa Academic Center, 2740 E. 41st St. North, has
been the site of violence toward both students and faculty.
Yet many teachers and staff members say they are
committed to remaining there for another year — if
improvements are made.