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Business
Jenks mayor says outlet mall is 'coming to fruition' after developer purchases 51 acres

An Indianapolis-based mall developer has purchased the acreage on which for years it has planned to build a mall in Jenks, land records show.

Tulsa Premium Outlets LLC has purchased about 51 acres from River District Development Group LLC for $12 million, a deed dated July 31 indicates.

Messages left with Robert A. Burk of River District Development Group weren’t immediately returned. Simon Property Group, the largest shopping mall operator in the country and backer of Tulsa Premium Outlets, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

But Jenks Mayor Robert Lee said in a statement that “we couldn’t be happier to see this project coming to fruition.”

“In addition to the revenue the Simon Premium Outlet Mall will bring the city, we look forward to the positive impacts it will bring to the Oklahoma Aquarium, Riverwalk, and our historic downtown.

“This has been a group effort spanning many years. I’m grateful to the tireless work of Simon Premium Outlets, city staff and my city council colleagues, past and present.”

Last spring, a sign placed near the site of the planned Tulsa Premium Outlets, across the Creek Turnpike from the Oklahoma Aquarium, indicated that an 80-retailer mall is coming in 2020. The center is expected to occupy at least 340,000 square feet, according city of Jenks records.

The Jenks City Council OK’d a request by River City Development in February to approve a preliminary/final plat for Tulsa Premium Outlets at 101st Place and Seventh (Beach) Street. The council also approved a sales tax economic development agreement with Tulsa Premium Outlets that was amended in March.

The agreement states that the company will invest about $100 million in the mall, which is estimated to create 400 temporary construction jobs and 800 full-time and part-time jobs at the mall. Also, under terms of the pact, the city of Jenks is obligated to pay Tulsa Premium Outlets a sales tax contribution equal to 1½ percent of mall sales. That contribution, not to exceed $17 million, is to be used by Tulsa Premium Outlets to offset an estimated $30.27 million it will incur in public improvement costs.

When the Jenks City Council rezoned the land, Simon said it would break ground in 2016 and open in the summer of 2017. But the groundbreaking never happened.

Mitigating anticipated traffic concerns, about $20 million in Creek Turnpike interchange improvements were completed near the proposed Simon project in 2017.

In 2013, municipal voters approved a bond initiative that devoted $7.5 million to develop and upgrade the interchanges at the Creek Turnpike and Jenks intersections. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority appropriated an additional $10,588,000 to expand the interchange at the Creek Turnpike and Elm Street.


Education
Free haircuts among many back-to-school resources available for students

The cost of a new school year can be a huge burden for many families, so several organizations host events to reduce the cost and ensure students get needed supplies.

Most schools have lists of supplies students need for the coming year, and families know how important it is for kids to look their best as the new year starts.

The nonprofit Clary Sage College is among agencies hosting an event to help students.

On Tuesday, the college joined with local cosmetologists and barbers to offer free haircuts to school-age kids during the 11th annual Cuts for Kids event, which continues 9:30 a.m to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

The event also features food trucks and free immunizations for those attending.

“I think it’s cool because it gives kids who don’t have that much money (the chance) to get haircuts,” eighth-grader Cheyenne Wyant said.

Pam Martin, Clary Sage campus director, said the event offers students the opportunity to engage with people who need help.

“A lot of our students don’t get the opportunity financially to give back or maybe to do other things in the community to give back,” Martin said. “So this is a way for them to show their appreciation for the clients that come in and support us throughout the year.”

Martin said about 45 students helped with the event and within the first hour, more than 185 kids received a haircut.

Tulsa resident Darlene Carey said she appreciates the free gesture because she has four grandchildren, and with additional costs for back-to-school supplies, costs add up.

“I mean, you’ve got to think of the mom that has two or three kids,” Megan George, Clary Sage salon floor instructor, said. “The amount of money that they have to fork out for just school supplies alone, on top of getting them clothes and hair ready, we are saving families hundreds of dollars.”

George said it’s a privilege to serve the community during a time when families often struggle.

More back-to-school resource events

9 a.m.-noon Aug. 9 at GUTS Church Distribution Center, 4352 S. 91st East Ave.: Free school supplies, shirts and groceries

10:30-12:30 p.m., 1:30-3:30 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Aug. 6-9 at Restore Hope Ministries, 2960 Charles Page Blvd.: Free school supplies

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 10 at Tamarack Place Apartments, 1110 E. 60th St.: Free backpacks, school supplies and haircut coupons at event with food, activities for kids

10 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 10 at Hutcherson Family YMCA, 1120 E. Pine St.: Free school supplies and haircuts at event with food and activities for kids

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 10 at Going Hard for Christ Church, 205 S. Sheridan Road: Free school supplies, backpacks and haircuts at event with basketball and face-painting

10:30-12:30 p.m., 1:30-3:30 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Aug. 13 at Restore Hope Ministries at 6910 S. 101st East Ave.: Free school supplies

10 a.m.-noon Aug. 15 at Rudisill Regional Library, 1520 N. Hartford Ave.: Free school supplies, books, backpacks and more at event with food, activities for kids

7-10 p.m. Aug. 16 at Guthrie Green, 111 E. M.B. Brady St.: Free school supplies and backpacks at movie night with first lady Sarah Stitt and Superintendent Joy Hofmeister hosted by Oklahoma Fosters (Tickets are free, but RSVPs are requested online at bit.ly/2yJpgCl.)

11 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, 3666 N. Peoria Ave.: Free school supplies and food at a Christian Ministers Alliance event

9 a.m. to noon Aug. 17 at Tulsa Tech's Lemley Memorial campus, 3420 S. Memorial Drive: Free school supplies, haircuts and health screenings

10 a.m. 6 p.m. Aug. 25 at Picasso’s Barber Studio, 3049 S. Sheridan Road: Free school supplies, haircuts, food and Madden 20 video game tournament. Donations will be collected at the barber shop through Aug. 24.


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Education
Suburban school districts face some hiccups but continue to surpass most state testing averages

Students in Bixby and Skiatook led Tulsa-area suburban schools in academic proficiency, according to newly released state tests results, while Union remains at the bottom of the list.

A Tulsa World analysis of the 2019 Oklahoma School Testing Program shows most local districts outperformed state averages in the third year of Oklahoma’s latest standardized tests — at least through fifth grade. Middle school math was a different story, with close to half the districts performing below the state average in each of those grades.

Among local districts, Bixby posted the highest student-proficiency rates on five of the 14 state tests. Skiatook came in second with top proficiency rates on four tests. Berryhill posted two top scores, while Owasso, Sperry and Collinsville each had one.

Bixby Superintendent Rob Miller said he is proud of the performance of Bixby students, and educators there will evaluate their students’ results and look for opportunities for improvement, just as they do every year. But he doesn’t think Oklahoma’s state tests measure what they’re supposed to.

“To use it to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and learning and the rating of schools is just not an effective measure,” Miller said. “If you do a comparison of poverty levels and student performance on these tests, there will be a strong correlation in the results. We are fortunate in Bixby and have a lot of positive demographics in our community, but this (testing system) doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Miller said the greatest fault of the state’s testing system is it provides so little “actionable” information for educators — and raises more questions than it answers.

“When you look year-to-year or follow a cohort group (of student performance as they progress from one grade to the next), it’s hard to get any idea about what’s happening,” Miller said. “We follow all of the frameworks the state provides us. Our teachers look at those (academic) standards every week. We provide intervention and additional support for students not keeping up with those standards. We are doing all of the systematic things that should drive improvement in all of these tested areas, but we don’t necessarily see any growth.”

For example, he said since the state rolled out new tests three years ago, math and reading proficiency has been inexplicably trending downward across the same cohort of elementary school students who were third-graders in 2017, fourth-graders in 2018 and fifth-graders in 2019.

“Every single area has seen a decline within that cohort group. There is no growth across the state and we see the same trend in our results,” Miller said. “We want our kids to be successful. We know it’s important to parents and to our community perception. But in terms of actionable information — information we can use to get these scores up, we’re just shooting in the dark.”

He added: “Teachers never see the tests, they never see the questions. All they know is we teach vocabulary. Do we just teach it better? It really seems to be an exercise in futility.”

Many districts saw big declines in their proficiency rates for fourth-grade reading and math as well as smaller declines for fifth grade compared to the previous year.

Jenks’ student proficiency came in about seven points lower in fourth-grade English this year, while Owasso was down 12 points.

Lisa Muller, associate superintendent for educational services at Jenks, said she doesn’t have a good explanation for why her district saw a decrease, particularly at the fourth-grade level.

However, she said it’s possible this year’s transition to online testing in the fourth and fifth grades may have played a factor.

“Our internal benchmarking did not show this past year’s fourth-graders were less proficient than the prior year, and yet we saw a seven-point drop,” Muller said. “So we do have concerns that the testing format in our case may have influenced things.”

Results at Owasso Public Schools remained relatively flat or slightly improved on most of the tests.

The district didn’t make as many gains as officials hoped for, said Margaret Coates, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Owasso. But with the state’s new academic standards, she believes the progress seen so far is a good start.

Oklahoma implemented more rigorous state testing assessments in 2016-17 for all of its public schools after abandoning Common Core. The Oklahoma Academic Standards for elementary and middle school students are embedded with the same benchmarks from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP.

Like Muller, Coates said the implementation of online assessments this year may have proved more challenging for students.

“We’re going to do a better job of making sure that students get the technology in their hands and have lots of time to practice,” she said. “We don’t want that to be a barrier to their doing well on the tests.”

Although Tulsa Public Schools was the only local district that failed to meet the state average in every grade and subject, Union wasn’t far behind. Tulsa’s second largest district surpassed the state average in only one category, eighth-grade math.

Union’s one bright spot amid otherwise bleak results was a seven-point gain in third-grade reading proficiency.

Officials pointed to Peters Elementary School in explaining the uptick since that one school alone increased its third-grade reading proficiency by 15 points.

“We knew we were trending up. I didn’t know it would be 15 points,” said Principal Tracy Weese, who shared the news with Peters teachers when preliminary test results came in at the beginning of summer break. “They were thrilled. They were surprised at how much higher it was.”

When asked how Peters’ three third-grade teachers could have achieved such a feat, Weese pointed to Union’s district-wide strategic plan, which designates literacy as a main focus for every school. At Peters, teachers work in grade level teams to carefully track student progress on the district’s own assessments used throughout the year.

“We set a goal and every single time we have tests, we sit down as a grade level and see if we are trending in the right direction. Do we need to tweak that to keep driving that in the right direction?” Weese said. “And for past three years, we have made sure our professional development is focused on different components of literacy. We are looking at fluency, at comprehension — all of the different pieces that go into a student’s state reading test score.”