One thing that has always drawn me to Tulsa is our strong sense of community. Our willingness to lend a hand to someone in need is at the very heart of our identities. I don’t know if it was born out of our forward-thinking, big-dreaming homesteader roots, but it seems to be ingrained in Tulsans. In fact, it’s one of the many reasons I moved back home!
The Growing Together collaborative has evolved out of these same strong roots. Neighbors have come together to support the Kendall-Whittier and Eugene Field communities. They are working together to create places with a clear sense of purpose, where our children can excel in school and go on to even greater success in career and life.
At Tulsa Public Schools, we believe that all children are capable of learning. It’s our responsibility to help them learn, but also to engage in a journey of self-discovery that will help each child reach his or her full potential. We need strong partners in this work. Each member of the Growing Together collaborative – like each one of our children – brings unique talents and capabilities to the table. We are so thankful to community partners such as City Year, Communities in School, Talent Development Secondary, Reading Partners, College Summit, YMCA, Educare, CAP Tulsa, Crosstown Learning Center, and the University of Tulsa.
The collective impact we have is certainly greater than anything we can do alone. In our schools, we are working to identify potential drop-outs early, improve attendance, behavior, and performance issues, and connect students with college and career pathways. The Growing Together initiative recognizes that the success of our children is inextricably tied to the health and vibrancy of the community. My hope is that we will take what we learn from this partnership and not only sustain the work taking place here, but use it as a template to improve educational outcomes for students in other communities. That’s just one of many reasons why this work is so exciting.
We all know that there is strength in numbers, and community partners offer some remarkable examples. Reading Partners’ 1,372 weekly volunteers delivered more than 22,000 hours of individualized tutoring in the 2014-15 school year. As a result, 97 percent of students increased their rate of literacy learning; 85 percent of students narrowed their literacy gap with peers who read at grade level. This is just one example of how this important work is stronger when we work together.
High-quality teachers and classrooms are integral to our children’s success. The school year got off to a terrific start, as we were able to ensure we had a certified teacher in every single classroom in the district. While you might think having enough teachers would be a given, it’s not. Oklahoma has a teacher shortage, and it really is at the crisis point. This year we had to fill 499 teaching positions, which is quite an endeavor. We really need to be able to recruit – and retain – teachers who can be a part of our winning team for the long term.
Thanks to Tulsa voters, our children have the benefit of classrooms and schools that are in good condition and are well-equipped. Over the summer, we worked on a record number of school construction projects – valued at about $10 million and paid for by the district’s bond funds. In addition to our school facilities, our bond funds are supporting our work to integrate technology into our schools.
As we move forward, we will use technology to transform the educational experience through personalized learning. We will start with learning goals that are broad, deep, and interdisciplinary, and we will hold the highest of expectations for all students. At the same time, we will give students the freedom and power to own their learning, choosing the pace and types of learning activities that work best for them, in service to their goals. We will personalize the learning experience to meet every student based on where she is, what she needs, and her goals and strengths. This will make the classroom experience fun and exciting. We will create a passion for learning in students that will serve them well long after they leave our schools.
As you know, the TPS Board and I are working on the district’s new five-year strategic plan. This is a process that involves teachers, parents, students and the Tulsa community – all are invited! Through the fall, we will hold public forums that will take place at all of the high schools throughout the district. We’ve already hosted events at E. Central, McLain, Webster, and Memorial high schools, and have gotten amazing feedback. This will be quite an extensive process, and I hope you will take part in it. You can find the dates for upcoming public forums and follow the progress in developing the plan at www.tulsaschools.org/plan.
I’m excited about the future, and I’m excited about the role that Growing Together will play as we continue to support children and families in our communities.
Please follow us on Twitter @TulsaSchools or @deborahgist and #SuccessTPS.
Dr. Deborah A. Gist
Superintendent, Tulsa Public Schools