For TPS teachers, the word of the day is 'change'
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, August 19, 2011
8/19/11 at 7:12 AM
See continuing coverage of Tulsa Public Schools’ Project Schoolhouse initiative.
Related story: Education by design.
Implementing dramatic change, not abiding more, is the 2011-12 mission with which Tulsa Public Schools teachers were charged Thursday.
So many shifts of students, employees, grade configurations, facility names and policy changes have occurred over the summer months that this year's teacher convocation wasn't even held at the ORU Mabee Center, as it usually is.
Leaders said they didn't dare ask teachers to take time away from their school buildings during their first official work day, so they opted for a live television broadcast of a pared-down event.
"We have had enough change for a while," Superintendent Keith Ballard said from the Rogers High School auditorium stage, drawing applause from the 200 or so teachers and administrators seated before him.
"We need to be focused on implementation."
A consolidation effort known as Project Schoolhouse ushered in not only 14 facility closures but also the reopening of one school and the conversion of eight others.
More than 7,200 students and hundreds of teachers had to be reassigned as part of the plan to eliminate 5,600 of the district's 10,400 empty seats and net more than $5 million savings in operational costs.
Ballard acknowledged that he has engaged in extensive public rhetoric on the topic of state funding reductions, including a $34 million statewide shortfall for mandatory teacher health insurance costs.
On Thursday, he took the opportunity to show teachers a chart that explained his concerns: State aid to Tulsa Public Schools alone has fallen over the past five years from $116 million to $115 million, then to $110 million and $103 million and finally, to $97 million for 2011-12.
"We are on perilous footing," Ballard said. "I am worried about what is going to happen this year."
He noted that the proceeds from the ongoing sale of vacant properties could be helpful, but he acknowledged that a reduction in force, which was avoided this year, might be necessary in 2012.
He lavished praise on the district's teachers for improvements in many schools' performance in the state of Oklahoma's school accountability system and encouraged them to focus on their essential role.
"We know we can make a difference in children's lives," Ballard said. "We have a sacred obligation."
Tulsa school board President Brian Hunt made a plea for "greater patience and flexibility" in the coming academic year, noting that it had been only 108 days since Project Schoolhouse was approved.
"The changes will not be easy, nor will they be perfect," Hunt said.
He reminded them that the board still has a couple of loose ends to tie up, namely deciding whether to require the sixth-graders remaining in three middle schools to move to elementary schools, as all other sixth-graders already have, and whether to require uniforms at the last seven school hold-outs.
One teacher who listened from the auditorium said he embraces all of the changes occurring in the district, but he readily admitted that as a first-year teacher, he doesn't know any different.
"I came from the business sector and completed my alternative certification," said Marcal Johnson, who will teach business at Central High School. "Change is good.
"Schools are doing the same thing businesses are doing: They're consolidating. I think there are benefits to the whole system."
Original Print Headline: TPS teachers must absorb many changes
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470