McLain may become 'C3' school
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2012
3/30/12 at 7:15 AM
The Oklahoma State Department of Education on Thursday morning identified McLain Junior High and High School for Science and Technology as among a list of seven schools across the state that could become "C3 Partnership Schools."
C3 stands for "College, Citizen and Career Readiness," and the schools will have to develop new instructional models to address student achievement deficiencies if the state Board of Education approves the partnerships at a special meeting April 9.
Tulsa Public Schools officials said they agreed to support a partnership only after state leaders shifted their rhetoric away from hostile state takeovers and the involvement of out-of-state education managers.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi and Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard issued a joint statement to the media Thursday morning, saying their conversations in recent weeks were productive.
However, the two differed slightly in their individual messages at other points during the day.
At the state Board of Education's regular monthly meeting in Oklahoma City, Barresi said leaders from her department, as well as Tulsa Public Schools, were "exploring a charter school McLain."
But Ballard told the Tulsa World he thinks it is critical that there be no preconceived notions about what reform efforts should be taken at McLain, which has seen countless such efforts over the last three decades.
"If we really want meaningful community input, we won't be predetermining what the course will be. We were successful in Project Schoolhouse (which led to the closure of 13 schools last year) and other reform initiatives because we were collaborative and flexible in responding to community feedback," he said.
Ballard said he is working with two Tulsa school board members to identify parents and community leaders to serve on a steering committee along with district and state education officials.
"They will solicit input. They will look at successful reforms across America and go wherever they need to go to see what is working, and then it will start to take shape," Ballard said.
If approved, new instructional strategies would be introduced at McLain at the beginning of 2013-14.
Teachers at McLain said they have lived under the microscope of district and state officials for decades.
Social studies teacher Philip Johnson, who is in his 14th year at McLain, said it's a particularly stressful place.
"Students, parents, teachers - we all live with the situation knowing if we don't do well, something's going to happen. We've got to get ready for this test or that test, and we worry if we don't do well, they're going to close our school," Johnson said.
He also said McLain's challenges aren't simple, so he believes that the solutions can't be, either.
"What I've found over the years is once a child in our district has been identified as high achieving, sometimes as early as when they take those third-grade tests, they are either recruited or they feel impelled to go elsewhere," Johnson said.
"What we have had over the years is an academic brain drain. Don't get me wrong - there are students here who do well - but they are far outnumbered by those who struggle academically."
Jason Gilley, who is in his third year as instrumental music teacher at McLain, said faculty members were relieved to know they would be guaranteed jobs somewhere in the district, even if they are asked to leave McLain.
"The majority of the faculty I have come in contact with are open to the partnership and to reform because we are interested in the best interests of kids," he said. "In my opinion, if they want this reform or change to take place, it will be necessary for some faculty members to stay because they have developed relationships and helped to break down walls with these kids and community members over the years."
Jeanetta Smith-Williams, a community advocate who works with youth, was invited to attend an exclusive meeting with just a handful of McLain community leaders this week and said she has great hope for the process.
"It's like a love affair - you don't know everything about them or about how it will work, but if everybody comes with an open mind and everybody respects each other, knowing that we are all working toward a common goal, I think it can work," she said.
Smith-Williams said looking at the school's student achievement data is shocking.
"It hurts my heart as a member of this community because I know we can do better with our children," she said. "We have to find a balance that strikes a chord with them so they know we do care and that we want them to succeed. Somewhere we are missing the mark."
Six other schools
Other schools recommended for C3 Partnerships with the Oklahoma State Department of Education
• Farris Elementary
• Keyes Elementary
• Okay High School
• Roosevelt Middle
School, Oklahoma City
• Santa Fe South Charter
Middle School, Oklahoma
• Shidler Elementary
School, Oklahoma City
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
McLain High School students wait outside the front entrance of the school before the start of classes Thursday in Tulsa. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Rebecca Jones, a math teacher at the McLain Junior High, visits Thursday with her morning advisory class, where students eat breakfast and do study hall work before their first class, which starts at 9:10 a.m. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World