Greenwood Leadership Academy will finish absorbing Academy Central Elementary by school year 2020-21 if the Tulsa school board votes to accelerate the school’s expansion.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist this week recommended authorizing Greenwood Leadership Academy to expand to fourth and fifth grade. Currently, the district’s first partnership school is on track to add fourth grade next year and fifth grade in two years.
In 2017, TPS approved an application from the Met Cares Foundation to convert one of its schools into a “partnership school” under a model authorized in Oklahoma two years earlier. Academy Central was selected for the partnership school in large part due to a steep enrollment decline and nearly half of the students in its attendance area transferring to other schools.
GLA opened in 2017-18 and began sharing a building with the elementary at 1789 W. Seminole St. The partnership school initially served only prekindergarten through first grade and has added a new grade every year, including third grade in 2019-20.
Each grade is absorbed from Academy Central, which currently serves fourth through sixth. The district originally planned to gradually convert Academy Central into GLA over a five-year period.
That plan might fast-forward a year as a result of the superintendent’s proposal to eliminate the sixth grade at several elementary schools and convert three junior highs — Central, Memorial and Rogers College — into middle schools serving sixth through eighth grades.
Rising sixth-graders at Academy Central would attend Central Middle School next year under the proposal, leaving the elementary school with only fifth grade as its fourth-graders move to GLA in August.
To prevent having a school with only one grade level, Gist is proposing to let GLA take over fourth and fifth grade in 2020-21 and finish the conversion of Academy Central ahead of schedule. The school board will vote on all grade configuration recommendations on Jan. 21.
During Monday’s meeting, board member Jennettie Marshall expressed concern about approving GLA’s expansion before its students complete the third round of yearly internal testing this spring. The district’s contract with the MET Cares Foundation must be renewed annually and states full implementation of the partnership school is contingent on officials receiving sufficient student performance data for the school year.
Marshall said she’d rather vote on the proposal after the final testing cycle is completed and noted the board typically doesn’t vote to renew GLA until the summer. Her concern stems from a history of underwhelming proficiency rates and disciplinary issues at the school.
She cited a recent data report showing a steep decline in third-grade proficiency. The report states 6% of GLA’s original student cohort, who now are in third grade, were proficient in math during the fall semester, compared to 31% in fall 2018. Their reading proficiency also declined from 27% to 13% during that time.
“For me, I would like to have seen them go through that full cycle of testing so we would have a full picture,” Marshall said. “... (I’d rather that) than have a premature vote because I’d never want to set the school up for failure. I don’t want to set the students up for failure, and I don’t want to set the district up for failure.”
TPS Chief Design and Innovation Officer Andrea Castaneda pointed out that first-grade and second-grade students became more proficient from fall 2018 to fall 2019. She also said the school’s proficiency rates in math and reading exceeded the district’s other comparable schools.
“While there is always more work to do, the school has responded quite significantly to your annual expectations that they improve,” Castaneda said.
Additionally, delaying this recommendation to wait on additional test scores would create a timing issue if the board approves eliminating sixth grade at elementary schools later this month. Castaneda said families at Academy Central and GLA deserve to know the status of both schools as significant grade changes are implemented across the district.
Board Vice President Suzanne Schreiber asked what would happen if the vote was delayed and her colleagues later denied renewing GLA because they didn’t like the updated test scores. The most likely answer, she said, would be to pay to keep Academy Central open with only one grade and about 50 students.
“These are our partners,” Schreiber said. “We need to trust and support them. We’ve seen really robust data and a trajectory going (upward). So I support this recommendation. I’m excited for Greenwood to accelerate to fifth grade, and I just expect that they’re not going to do anything but continue to provide a high-quality education for our kids.”
Academy Central Interim Principal Denise Love and the school’s approximately 25 remaining teachers and staff members will be able to reapply for other roles in the district.