Happiness in the halls of KIPP Tulsa University Prep

Tulsa World: KIPP Tulsa eyes vacant Gilcrease Elementary building, rallies for community support to move new high school to north Tulsa

Appeared In Tulsa World on October 30, 2019

Written by: Kyle Hinchey

KIPP Tulsa wants to move its growing high school to north Tulsa, and it needs the community’s help to make it happen.

Don Parker, interim executive director of the Tulsa Public Schools-sponsored charter, hosted the first of multiple planned community meetings this week in an attempt to garner support for the move.

Now in its second year, KIPP Tulsa University Prep High School quickly is outgrowing its temporary space at the former ECDC-Porter building in southwest Tulsa. TPS is allowing the school, which adds an additional grade each year, to stay at Porter through 2020-21.

The charter is desperate to find a permanent facility that can house a fully grown high school. Parker believes the location should be in north Tulsa, where most of KIPP’s students live.

“There’s no reason why, to get a good college prep, high school education, anybody should have to get on a bus and go to the other side of the city,” he said. “It should be in north Tulsa, and there’s an obvious answer.”

That answer, according to Parker, is Gilcrease Elementary. The former school at 5550 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. shut down at the end of last school year after being consolidated with the adjacent ECDC-Bunche.

The vacant school building has a capacity of 615, making it large enough to house the high school’s projected 500 students. It’s also a much more convenient location for families.

Parker said he’s asked TPS about Gilcrease several times but is being told he must gain the community’s support if he wants the empty building.

This prompted the creation of an online petition to request the district work with KIPP to host its high school in north Tulsa. Parker said he’s open to other options but maintains Gilcrease is the best choice.

In a statement to the Tulsa World, a TPS spokeswoman said the district agrees finding a long-term facility for the high school requires a broader conversation with the community. District officials are aware of several organizations interested in the Gilcrease building but currently are not considering any requests.

“Regardless of KIPP’s next location, comprehensive community engagement will be critical in ensuring understanding and support from their parents and stakeholders,” the statement reads. “There is, however, no district-level process through which district-authorized charters can use community engagement or petitions to secure a building. Decisions about the use of buildings owned by Tulsa Public Schools are made by our board of education.”

No longer ‘the quiet participant’

While KIPP officials have been patient due to the district’s assurance about finding a facility, Parker said a lack of progress and a perceived change in tone compelled them to take a more direct approach.

“We’ve been quieter, and it wasn’t until probably this summer that TPS kind of changed its position to say, ‘We’re not going to have anywhere for you unless you can get the community engaged,’ ” Parker said. “So we then shifted our tactics to say that if we’re going to need the community’s help, then we can no longer be the quiet participant. We’ve got to get out and start talking to people, and frankly we’ve got to talk to people in terms that are uncomfortable to talk about.”

He believes the high performance of KIPP’s middle school, which has served north Tulsa for 15 years, and the poor academic quality of other area schools testify to why the high school is needed there.

During this week’s meeting, Parker presented data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s school report cards showing how KIPP Middle School compared to neighboring schools in 2017-18.

McLain Junior High, Central Junior High and Tulsa Legacy Charter earned F grades in academic growth and academic achievement that year, according to the state data. Monroe Demonstration Academy received a D in academic growth and an F in academic achievement.

KIPP Middle School earned an A in academic growth and a C in academic achievement. Carver Middle School earned a B in growth and an A in achievement.

Although Carver scored higher in overall academic achievement, Parker noted KIPP’s middle school outperformed the magnet in black achievement. The report cards show 37% of black Carver students scored advanced or proficient while 39% of black KIPP Tulsa were deemed advanced or proficient.

North Tulsa high schools showed similar results. McLain and Central high schools scored F’s in academic achievement and F’s in graduation. Booker T. Washington High School aced both areas and is the only TPS school to receive an overall A grade.

Again, Parker pointed out black students were the lowest performing group at Booker T., with 34% testing proficient or advanced in academic achievement.

There is no data available for KIPP’s high school because it’s only in its second year. But founding school leader Chris Mahnken said the charter expanded into ninth grade and beyond due to the lack of high-quality options for its graduating middle-schoolers in north Tulsa.

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