Oklahoma Education Officials Push for School Closures and Score Improvements in Tulsa

In response to new demands for academic improvement, Tulsa Public Schools may be forced to close some of its schools.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education has set additional goals for the district to achieve by the end of the school year. Superintendent Ryan Walters has stated that if the district falls short, “all options are on the table” for penalties.

Walters and the board have suggested that the district consider consolidating resources and funding into fewer school buildings, which could potentially lead to school closures.

“We think they need to be looking at school closures,” Walters stated. “I’m not telling them which schools they need to close, but I am telling them when you look at these numbers of that many F schools, you look at the resources that you’re making available, you look at (the fact that) some of them have been on this (F) list for years, it absolutely has to be part of the decision-making process.”

Tulsa’s interim Superintendent, Ebony Johnson, has acknowledged that the district is exploring the possibility of school closures as well as significant changes to staff.

“There will be district-office and school-level changes in personnel that will take place this school year,” Johnson informed the state board. “We are also having conversations regarding ensuring that we provide the best quality learning experience for our students. And in that conversation, that could lend itself to some school closures.”

A similar move occurred in Oklahoma City Public Schools in 2019, when 15 schools were closed and 17 others were reconfigured. The plan aimed to concentrate services and resources into fewer schools with higher enrollment, ultimately reducing costs.

Tulsa has been under the threat of a state takeover for the past four months, as state officials have been closely scrutinizing the district’s poor academic performance. Former Superintendent Deborah Gist resigned in September to prevent such drastic measures.

In order to avoid further penalties, Tulsa must ensure that 50% of its students achieve at least a basic level on state reading tests this spring, or the district must witness a 5% increase in academic growth in reading.

The state Board of Education has also directed Tulsa to improve its 18 schools that have been labeled as “more rigorous intervention” schools. Out of these 18, twelve must show enough improvement to avoid being labeled in the same category next year.

Additionally, the district must provide training on the science of reading to all of its teachers. The district’s finance team is also required to meet with staff from the Oklahoma State Department of Education to review district expenditures.

Tulsa Board of Education President Stacey Woolley expressed concerns over the new academic expectations, fearing that they may not be attainable. State officials have criticized the district’s academic plan for not being ambitious enough, but Woolley assures that the goals were developed with the guidance of school data experts.

Regarding the possibility of school closures, Woolley acknowledges that it will be a challenging conversation but does not dismiss the idea. She emphasizes that the board’s priority is to do what is best for the students.

Any decisions regarding school closures, consolidations, or changes in school format would involve input from families, the community, and the Tulsa school board.

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