Founders of Greenwood Leadership Academy, a new “partnership school” expected to open in a Tulsa public school this fall, have been busy publicizing their vision for the school to be a community-oriented, rigorous program aiming to improve student outcomes in north Tulsa.
Striving to educate the future leaders of its community, the school emphasizes the legacy of its namesake — the Greenwood District — as a prosperous African-American community dubbed America’s “Black Wall Street” in the early 1900s.
“We’re educating the leaders who are going to transform local and global communities,” said the school’s founding principal Kojo Asamoa-Caesar. “And we want our kids thinking in those terms: ‘I am here to learn and grow and to achieve my highest potential so that I can serve my community and I can improve my neighborhood, the place that I grew up in. And I’m not doing something that’s never been done before. I am actually connecting to a legacy — folks who came before me.’ ”
On Monday evening, another step toward finalizing details for the school’s first year will be taken when the Tulsa school board is asked to vote on a contract with the Met Cares Foundation, the organization partnering with Tulsa Public Schools to operate the school. The regular board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Charles C. Mason Education Service Center, 3027 S. New Haven Ave.
Located at Academy Central Elementary, 1789 W. Seminole St., the new school is set to serve pre-kindergarten through first grade in its first year and then add a higher grade level each year until it serves pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
As a new school with a unique vision, its leaders and staff have been advertising it in an effort to attract families who live in its attendance area but have opted to transfer their elementary-aged children to other schools.
Melanie West, who has decided to send her 3-year-old son to Greenwood Leadership Academy for pre-kindergarten in the fall, said she feels like the new school is “drawing the community back in.”
West attended Academy Central Elementary in the early 1990s and went on to attend George Washington Carver Middle School and graduate from Booker T. Washington High School. She now teaches fifth grade at Burroughs Elementary School.
West lives within Academy Central’s attendance boundaries but decided to transfer her oldest daughter to another school a few years ago after she indicated she wasn’t being adequately challenged in her classes at the neighborhood school.
After transferring her second daughter to another school as well, West attended a recent community fair organized by Greenwood Leadership Academy and decided that was where she wanted to send her third child.
“Just the fact that they’re trying to do something new for north Tulsa, and the way they talk about rigor and college prep at such a young age, and the well-roundedness they’re trying to build in our students — that’s what drew me in,” West said.
One of the reasons Asamoa-Caesar, a 31-year-old Teach for America alumnus, says he is confident Greenwood Leadership Academy will help students reach their full potential is because it will prioritize parent and community engagement, combined with a school culture aimed at building students’ confidence.
That ties in with the school’s hiring staff members who have what he calls “cultural competence,” or an understanding of the challenges the students might be facing, while serving as positive role models.
“We’re hiring people who exemplify that black excellence value in the way they dress and the way they speak,” he said. “People who have law degrees and master’s degrees and are committed to education and just exude that and can be models and representation for our kids, so they actually not just hear it but they see it. They can see their future in the adults who are in front of them on a daily basis.”
Danielle Conley is returning to the school she attended in the 1990s to teach first grade this fall.
Conley has been an elementary school teacher in Georgia, where she moved with her family when she was in high school. She is now a mother of two, and she and her husband discovered Greenwood Leadership Academy through social media while considering moving back to Tulsa.
Conley said she hopes to help children reach their full potential by encouraging them to have “the belief within themselves to reach their dreams or try to aspire to be who they really, ultimately are destined or called to be, with the proper direction and with proper encouragement and support systems.”
The school is part of a “holistic model” initiated by Met Cares, a nonprofit aiming to address educational and socioeconomic needs in north Tulsa, which considers the grade school at the center of its efforts to drive economic development and community ownership.
Academy Central principal Tedria Charles said Greenwood Leadership Academy will “provide additional resources that our students need to support their academic success.”
“I look forward to continuing to advance the academic progress that we’ve worked diligently to achieve thus far with Kojo and the GLA team,” she said.
As a “partnership school” with TPS, it will operate under the school district’s oversight but have autonomy regarding its direction and management, including the school’s budget, curriculum, professional learning, staffing, academic calendar, school bell times and assessments.