Members of the North Tulsa Community Education Task Force hope the overhaul of Monroe Demonstration Academy will help revitalize the education system in north Tulsa.
The recommendation to shut down three schools in the McLain feeder pattern and funnel every middle-schooler into a revamped Monroe surprised district officials earlier this year. But those who crafted the plan asserted the changes were necessary to reverse — or at least slow down — the decline of the McLain feeder pattern.
The district-appointed community task force worked for months to determine what to do with the unsustainable McLain 7th Grade Academy. Group members determined the issues affected far more than one school.
Retired TPS Principal Karen Pittman joined the task force because she believed the students in her community deserved a well-rounded education. Like so many others, she’s concerned by the dwindling enrollment and terrible test scores plaguing north Tulsa schools.
The long-ignored instability of these schools, she said, caused many parents to lose faith in the district and transfer their kids to private schools and charters.
“I feel like if we don’t do it now, as far as academically, our schools are going to continue to spiral in the wrong direction because if you look at the grades that they’re making every year, they aren’t getting any better,” Pittman said. “They’re getting worse.”
Andrea Chambers, the task force’s vice chairwoman, became involved due to her personal investment in north Tulsa education and desire to see it succeed. Her child is about to begin attending school in the area.
She said her group wants to ensure every kid in the McLain feeder pattern has access to quality learning experiences.
“We thought, what better way than to have one middle school where you can streamline all of the allocations so that they’re not split with competing middle schools,” Chambers said. “We looked at the numbers and thought it would be better because we believe in public school education.”
Part of Monroe’s allure is its Tribes curriculum, which centers on designing and implementing a sense of community in the classroom. Students are organized into groups known as tribes and previously spent 25 minutes each morning participating in collaborative-focused activities intended to meet their social and emotional needs.
The curriculum is being expanded to let students spend the entire day with their tribe. Each group will be assigned to four core-content teachers for the entire school year. This allows the kids to grow closer and their teachers to plan together.
And then there’s MicroSociety, an international program in which students apply classroom learning to real-world situations by transforming their school into a functional society. The program also will be modified to accommodate a second building and surge in enrollment.
One of the task force’s main priorities has been to align the curriculum at the other schools in the feeder pattern so students entering middle and high school reflect more academic similarities than differences.
Chambers said her team wanted to get the ball rolling in the spring. However, district officials decided to focus on Monroe before diving into the elementary schools.
“We understand that they wanted to put all of their energy and time and focus into getting Monroe up because there will be this larger number of students coming,” she said. “But we have been making sure that we keep that conversation at the forefront of their minds and say as soon as school starts, we’re ready to address the rest of the feeder pattern.”
North Tulsa has experienced a number of school closures over the years to the dismay of residents. Tulsa school board member Jennettie Marshall, who helped create the task force last year, has described her community as being “habitually and historically” victimized by the district’s poor decisions.
Marshall said the continued involvement of a passionate and committed community group distinguishes this consolidation effort from those in the past.
“It’s been a matter of closing schools and then business as usual with sending students to other buildings, but there’s nothing to follow up as far as enhancements,” she said. “But in this effort, there was a look at what are the issues, what are the problems, the pros and cons and how to best serve our communities here in the feeder pattern. And through a collaborative relationship, those things are being addressed.”
Other elements of the task force’s approved recommendation included limiting charter school expansion in north Tulsa and creating a parent resource center.
The resource center will share the former McLain 7th Grade Academy building with the Tulsa Learning Academy and offer support services for families.
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