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Tulsa's Failing Schools: Who Is Responsible?

Parent Sally Perez
Parent Sally Perez
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Almost half of Tulsa's Public Schools received an "F" in the state's two-year-old grading system.

With the future of so many students at stake, Tulsa's Channel 8 asked several state and local leaders who is responsible for the school's poor performance.

Instead of accountability, we found leaders passing the blame.

Board Member Blames Teachers

When the state released the school grades this fall, Tulsa's Channel 8 interviewed the school board members about what the district would do about the failing schools.

Board member Wilbert Collins said he wasn't sure at the time.

"I'm still learning my way around the building because I am a new board member," Collins said in November.

We recently caught up with Collins again to see what he had learned since November and to see if the district was doing anything different since board members have had more time to look at the school grades.

We asked him when his term was over. He said next year. It actually ends in 2017.

We asked him if Emerson was in his seat's district. He said yes. Emerson is in the first district represented by Gary Percefull.

Then we asked who he thought was responsible for improving Tulsa's schools.

"I don't have the slightest idea," he said. "I'm sorry. That's gonna make me look bad on TV."

But he did have an idea for who was responsible for the 36 schools that received Fs from the state.

"Just common sense would tell you the teachers in the schools," he said.

Teachers Say System is Flawed

Third grade Teacher Jennifer Thornton disagrees.

"Come spend a day in my room," she said. "I would open my door to almost anybody, and you come give it a shot."

Thornton teaches at Emerson Elementary, one of the schools that received an F.

"You say they are failing, but failing according to a flawed system," she said. "Go into schools. They're not failing."

State Leader Says Schools 'Failing for Decades'

But according to state Superintendent Janet Baressi and Oklahoma's A-F School Grading System the schools are failing.

"They have been failing for decades," Baressi said. "When you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, that is a sign of insanity."

Teachers and superintends across the state say the state's grading system is bad.

At Emerson, the school was a D last year and dropped to an F, even though more students scored satisfactory.

Baressi says the formula changed, but she does not support giving credit for progress unless it means hitting the benchmark.

"For years and years, kids in poverty and kids in chronically low performing schools were hidden," she said. "Now we've shown the light on it. These teachers should not feel stressed. They should feel supported by their district."

Superintendent Wants More Funding

But the teachers say they don't feel supported. Even Tulsa's superintendent says schools don't have what they need to succeed.

"The state legislators, government officials need to fix this," Dr. Keith Ballard said.

He wants more funding for teachers.

State Representative Jadine Nolan says she will work for more funding but says improvement is the school board members' responsibility.

"I trust all of our local boards," Nolan said. "They are elected officials. Actually people in their districts are the ones that elect them to do that job."

Board Member Wilbert Collins admits he doesn't know the answers, but Board President Ruth Ann Fate says the board is responsible for making sure children learn.

"It is our job to make sure kids are reading," she said.

Parent Wants Other Parents to Step Up

Sally Perez is a PTA president, and in the end she doesn't blame the school board members. She blames the parents.

"We can talk about teachers all day long; there were bad teachers when I was in school," the Memorial High mom said. "There is just the lack of parental involvement. It is at a crisis mode."

What's the Solution?

We are giving you a voice. We want to know your solutions to fix Tulsa schools.

We invite you to leave your ideas on Tulsa's Channel 8's Facebook page.

Kim Jackson will deliver all of your ideas to the state and local leaders, including board members, and parent groups.

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