Ire of community raised at McLain school reform meeting
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
4/11/12 at 9:34 PM
The first community meeting about a new state-sponsored reform effort at McLain Junior High and High School for Science and Technology ended in shouting Wednesday night.
Officials from Tulsa Public Schools and the Oklahoma State Department of Education pledged an open-ended process for developing the reform plan by an advisory committee composed of their representatives, as well as a host of community members.
But when a Tulsa Public Schools administrator asked for community feedback on the possibility of applying for a federal school-improvement grant that might require the removal of the principal and some teachers, at least half of the 75 or so people in attendance jeered.
The urgency, officials explained, is an April 20 deadline for applying for the competitive grant, which could bring in up to $5 million.
Amid the shouting, State Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, asked, “On those (reform) models, I feel like there is some unease about the staff changes. Are those non-negotiable and absolute?”
A woman yelled out, “If you only have until April 20 to apply for this, what input could we possibly give?”
Kevin Burr, associate superintendent for secondary schools, answered, “If we do commit to this, it is something we would have to follow through with and do.”
He added, “We did not feel that a (state) takeover was the right approach to make for this community. We are here to work on a plan. That is what we intend to do.”
As the shouting persisted, school board member Lana Tuner-Addison, who represents the area around McLain and its feeder schools, called the meeting to a close.
She said the next meeting would be scheduled within two weeks and asked that people contact members of the advisory committee and also e-mail their questions, concerns and ideas.
Afterward, McLain PTA President Jackie Verner said people feel strongly about the leadership of Co-Principal Ebony Johnson and the significant gains in student achievement that have been made in recent years.
“Replacing the principal and faculty is the worst thing they could do,” Verner said. “They have relationships with the kids and employees. Mrs. Johnson is effective. She graduated from here and doesn’t think she’s better than anybody here. She has an open-door policy and goes out of her way to ensure our kids succeed. She has earned trust and respect.”
Verner said education officials, interested community patrons and McLain alumni need to visit McLain and spend more than one hour seeing what the school’s climate is really like before any decisions are made.
“I am disheartened that it seems as if we are judged. Our kids are successful. We have kids who have already been accepted this year to NEO, RSU, OU and OSU.
“They think our kids are all trouble-makers and hard-knock cases because of where we are.”
Earlier in the evening, Superintendent Keith Ballard acknowledged the progress that has been made at McLain and explained that he had fought hard to fend off a hostile takeover by state education officials.
“We have demonstrated that we have made incremental progress at McLain, but incremental progress is not enough. We have too many students performing below proficient,” Ballard said. “Whenever we entered into the conversation, we were not talking about partnerships — we were talking about takeovers. We will resist any takeover efforts by the state. We will decide what we will do in our community.”
McLain is one of six schools confirmed Monday for a “C3 Partnership” with the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
C3 stands for “College, Citizen and Career Readiness,” and the schools that will participate have been identified as the most in need of intervention among the lowest-performing 5 percent of public schools across the state.
Richard Caram, director of C3 Schools at the state Department of Education, vowed repeatedly that the reform effort would not be just a “partnership” in name only.
“In no way, no shape, no form is the state Department of Education going to come in and take over,” Caram said. “I went in and talked to (State) Superintendent Janet Barresi, and I changed some minds over there, and I said this is going to be a partnership.
“You need to trust me. I can make this work, and I can make it work with Tulsa Public Schools because they have worked tirelessly to change the schools in this city.”
He added, “I am committed to making sure every kid has the opportunity to go to college no matter who they are or what their circumstances have been.”
Turner Goodrum, who served as PTA president at McLain when his son and daughter attended there in the early to mid-90s, said he agreed to serve on the advisory committee because he is hopeful that this reform effort will work.
“I hope to see a better McLain,” Goodrum said. “I don’t know how the outcome will be different, but we will all work to make it a positive outcome. I am pursuing this with an open mind and an outlook of success.”
School patrons listen to Kevin Burr, Tulsa's associate superintendent for secondary schools, as he speaks about the pending C3 Partnership with the state for McLain Junior High and High School for Science and Technology during an informational meeting at the school Wednesday evening. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Kevin Burr, associate superintendent for secondary schools, uses a graphic plotting various school achievements as he speaks about the pending C3 Partnership with the state for McLain Junior High and High School for Science and Technology during an informational meeting at the school Wednesday evening. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Richard Caram, director of C3 Schools at the state Department of Education, speaks about the pending C3 Partnership with the state for McLain Junior High and High School for Science and Technology during an informational meeting at the school Wednesday evening. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Keith Ballard, Tulsa Public Schools superintendent, speaks about the pending C3 Partnership with the state for McLain Junior High and High School for Science and Technology during an informational meeting at the school Wednesday evening. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World