The spectrum of the Stop, The Takeover Movement, represents a rare, diverse cross-section of Tulsans: Blacks and white civic activists who want to preserve the integrity of public education; public officials to protect the educational freedom of their constituents; to support educators wary of the dangers of a state-controlled school system; to involve mothers and fathers desperately fighting for the best education for their kids; to engage philanthropic organizations and public interest groups who know that sound education is at the root of their missions; and to include residents of both north and south Tulsa who know that excellent schooling cuts across all boundaries and socio-economic sectors.
Oklahoma State School Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters is mounting a campaign to support severe action against TPS, including a dramatic downgrading of the system’s accreditation and a plan to take over the operations of public schools across the city.
The opponents to the position that Walters and other conservative politicians are taking are raising their voices in press conferences, strategy meetings, and interviews. They are sending the critics of TPS a simple, singular message: No to a takeover.
Takeover detrimental to students
Yashaca Armstrong, an African American mother of three children in two different Tulsa Public schools, summed up the sentiments of TPS parents succinctly. “Of course, as a parent, I am concerned about the quality of education in Tulsa schools,” she said in an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle. “But any unwarranted downgrading of the school district would be detrimental to my kids’ education. It would be disruptive and would not address the problems TPS is having.”
On Thursday, a coalition of leading philanthropic organizations in Tulsa and two major Native American tribes issued a letter protesting the attempts for a state takeover of schools. (See related article on page X in The Oklahoma Eagle.)
Alisa Bell, executive director of J.A.M.E.S Inc., a nonprofit assisting new mothers in Tulsa, is also alarmed at the potential disruption that severe changes in the accreditation and management of Tulsa schools could have on mothers of children in Tulsa’s underserved communities. “It’s already hard enough for the parents we work with to get their kids to school and get them through classes and other activities,” Bell told The Oklahoma Eagle.
“The accreditation changes and proposed takeover would negatively impact students and parents in our network and community.” Bell added that many mothers associated with J.A.M.E.S. are pushing to get their degrees from TPS high schools and fear that losing accreditation would throw them off course.
Bell is also helping to circulate a petition to oppose the proposed accreditation and status changes for TPS. The Change.org petition, launched by Omare Jimmerson, executive director of Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative, has garnered over 4,000 signatures. In addition, Bell organized a webinar via Zoom last week to inform mothers working with JAMES of the issues involved in a potential TPS accreditation change or takeover.
Ashley Daly, a Tulsa schools advocate, and mother of a TPS second grader, concurred. She is an outspoken advocate for TPS, the mother of a TPS second grader, and the founder of Protect TPS, a grassroots group seeking to educate the public about what is happening in Tulsa district public schools and garner support for the school system and its leadership. The group has started rallies during TPS meetings to oppose the downgrading and takeover of TPS.
In an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle, Daly said that she has tracked closely the approach TPS has taken to address learning gaps and other issues facing Tulsa schools. “The system established goals for improvement, and they are meeting those goals,” she said. “The state should be seeking ways to help the district rather than introducing rules that are confusing and unhelpful.”
Daly also voiced dismay at Walters’ aggressive tactics in his treatment of Tulsa schools.
“I’m disturbed by how little he has reached out to collaborate or work with our school leaders,” she said. “He has spent very little time with Tulsa school leaders. He exhibits exactly the opposite kind of behavior that we’re trying to teach our children.”
Teachers express fear, anxiety
The pushback from Tulsa teachers against Walters’ attacks is expected. Shawna Mott-Wright, who represents hundreds of teachers as president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, reported that among teachers, the opposition to any takeover runs broad and deep.
“As the debate over the fate of TPS rises, Tulsa teachers are expressing fear, anxiety, and depression,” Mott-Wright told The Oklahoma Eagle. Two teachers have left TPS in the past few weeks due to worries about the fate of TPS, she explained. “We’re already short of teachers and can’t afford to lose others over this nonsense.”
“The message Tulsa teachers want to send Walters and other harsh critics is: Stop it! Our schools, students, and teachers deserve better.”
In Darryl Bright’s view, the anti-TPS bid that Walters and others are pushing has little to do with concern for the education of Tulsa’s children. “I have listened closely to their reasons for targeting TPS’s accreditation. I have heard nothing from them about plans to improve educational opportunities for the kids,” Bright told The Oklahoma Eagle.
Bright, an African American and longtime director of Citizens United for a Better Educational System (CUBES), has pushed for improvements in north Tulsa schools for over five decades.
“This is about power,” he said, “about the conservative politicians trying to take over everything they can in any way they can. This power grab can’t be allowed to succeed.”
Lawmakers also join the fight
St. Rep. Monroe Nichols, Dist. 72, and a recently announced candidate for mayor of the City of Tulsa, also feels that Walters’ campaign is not about improving educational results.
“If they wanted to bring about better test scores in Tulsa, they had multiple opportunities to focus on that in recent years. They used none of them,” Nichols said in an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle.
He added: “In the end, this campaign is fueled by a personal attack against the leadership of TPS and against Tulsa itself.
We can’t let the future of Tulsa schools and our school children be sacrificed for personal vendettas.”
On Wednesday, Nichols and St. Rep. John Waldron, Dist. 77, led a press conference with other local stakeholders to voice their opposition to the attacks on TPS accreditation and proposed takeover. Other lawmakers, including St. Rep. Regina Goodwin, Dist. 73, joined the conference to defend TPS and respond to Walters’ attacks.
“Whatever happens, advocates of Tulsa schools should take this as a wake-up call, CUBES leader Bright said. “What we’re doing isn’t working well. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we have to take bolder approaches.”