Collegiate Hall’s top official says the college preparatory charter school has not yet found a home for its new elementary program, which aims to be the first STEM-based elementary in Tulsa.
Collegiate Hall, which is sponsored by Tulsa Public Schools, has served grades 4-8 since opening in 2015. The charter now is expanding to prekindergarten through third grade, starting with pre-K and kindergarten next year.
The problem for Nikhil Kawlra is there’s no space at the current building, which it shares with Marshall Elementary at 1142 E. 56th St., for the 60 pre-K students and 60 kindergartners joining the school in 2020-21. The executive director has been looking at a number of private options in the area that could house the elementary program.
Kawlra also is monitoring TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist’s potential recommendation to close four elementary schools at the end of the year. Gist plans to propose the budget-cutting plan to the school board at Monday’s meeting. A vote is expected two weeks later.
“We know that obviously there’s a lot going on with Tulsa Public Schools as it relates to facilities,” Kawlra said. “We hope to have an answer probably around March or April with a place locked down, hopefully as close to our current facility as humanly possible.”
Rumors of Collegiate Hall taking over the targeted Wright Elementary, which is located 2 miles north of the charter, have circulated since Gist announced the recommendation in early December. The superintendent maintains no decisions have been made about the future use of vacant buildings, though she hasn’t dismissed the possibility of leasing them to district-sponsored charters.
Kawlra also said there haven’t been any discussions with TPS about acquiring the Wright building. Such talk would be premature, he noted, since the board’s vote remains weeks away.
However, he said leasing a TPS-owned building would be a cheaper alternative to purchasing a private property, which would lower the amount of funding spent on students.
“We’d love to have — and have been grateful to have — a TPS facility as an option,” Kawlra said. “I’d say that so far it’s worked really well to be co-located with Marshall Elementary School for these past five years, and I think it’s been a great partnership. We’ve been really, really blessed to be in the building with TPS and blessed that they made room for us there.”
Although other TPS-sponsored charters currently are expanding to high school, Collegiate Hall opted to add lower grades due to the absence of a STEM-based elementary option in Tulsa.
Cassidy Richardson, school director of the new elementary program, said the curriculum there will be infused with STEM education — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to promote critical thinking and prepare students early for high-demand careers. Students reportedly will begin to learn coding in kindergarten and engineering design in pre-K.
“There’s a huge demand for STEM right now, both in elementary schools and in careers beyond college,” Richardson said. “Understanding the design process and the engineering process allows kids to solve problems and think critically, so if we start building that in them during pre-K and K, the problems they’ll be able to solve are going to change our world.”
The goal of play-based learning is to stimulate childhood development and expand social-emotional skills. Students rotate between learning centers or stations that feature activities ranging from puzzles and dress-up to wordplay and guided reading.
“There’s a lot of research that shows pre-K and kindergarten-aged students learn best through targeted play,” Richardson said, “and so this will allow us to not only help their academics, but also help their social-emotional skills, which we have a huge emphasis on at our school.”
Collegiate Hall has scheduled several enrollment help sessions in January for the elementary program, which is expected to have 300 students by the time third grade is added.