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Tulsa school board halts charter school's renewal; district literacy scores improve

Elsie Urueta Pollock, CEO of Tulsa Honor Academy, speaks to students, parents and staff outside of the Charles C. Mason Education Service Center after leaving Monday's board meeting.
Ben Abrams
Elsie Urueta Pollock, CEO of Tulsa Honor Academy, speaks to students, parents and staff outside of the Charles C. Mason Education Service Center after leaving Monday's board meeting.

The renewal of Tulsa Honor Academy's contract with Tulsa Public Schools was postponed again Monday after accusations of racist behavior was voiced by a TPS board member earlier this month.

THA's renewal was on the agenda for the evening's meeting, but Interim Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson announced it would be put off again "in an abundance of caution."

A large number of THA parents, students and staff showed up to Monday's meeting only to leave before the meeting hit the 10-minute mark.

"I'm disappointed, but I believe in our team," said Elsie Urueta Pollock, the founder and CEO of THA. "We have met every single metric that TPS has presented for us. We've surpassed every academic metric... by a lot."

Urueta Pollock said she was notified "within the hour or so... maybe an hour and a half at most" that the agenda item for her school was to be pulled. She said there was not much time to notify every family that planned to show up that the item may not be voted on.

She spoke to a group of students, parents, staff and supporters outside the board meeting to lift up spirits.

"One way or another, we're going to keep going and prove everybody wrong," she said.

At the TPS board meeting on Oct. 2, board member Diamond Marshall of District 2 said she became aware of racist behavior at the school. "The Black student union shared with me that there were a lot of racial slurs," Marshall said at the previous meeting.

Marshall said she had been told the problem was acute enough that students felt unsafe and staff members left the school.

Urueta Pollock confirmed incidents of racism did occur in the spring semester of last year in the middle school at THA's campus along Lakewood Ave.

"Once it came up to my level, we took it very seriously," she said. "We canceled school for a day to be able to address all of the concerns that staff members had."

Urueta Pollock said school the next day was focused on "building student culture" and "resetting norms."

Dr. Johnson said another meeting would be scheduled before the end of the month to focus on THA's contract, maintaining the eight-month notice as required by state law. Johnson did not speak to reporters after the meeting to elaborate on the renewal vote's postponement.

Dr. Jerry Griffin of District 6 was not present at Monday's meeting. Both campuses of THA fall in Dr. Griffin's district.

MAP reading proficiency reports

Another agenda item at Monday's board meeting was the district's academic goals.

Dr. Johnson shared the latest reports of student growth as assessed by MAP, the literacy assessment program from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

The latest MAP assessment showed Tulsa's economically disadvantaged students on track with TPS' reading goals.

The first MAP score showed 28.9% of K-5 students who are economically disadvantaged "scoring as well as or better than half of all elementary students in the country," Johnson said. That's up one percentage point from the previous semester.

The second MAP score showed 26% of 6-8 students who are economically disadvantaged doing the same for their grade levels compared to the rest of the country. That's also up one percentage point from the previous semester.

"We are not at all celebrating our data as if we've arrived," Johnson said, "we are very, very mindful of the work we have to do."

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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