LOCAL & STATE
The Oklahoma Eagle
TULSA, OKLA. – In an August meeting, OSBE said that TPS must improve student reading proficiency, upgrade the performance of “failing” schools, and correct accounting processes that had led to an embezzlement of school funds, identified in 2022. In that meeting, OSBE also renewed the accreditation of TPS. OSBE requires TPS to make monthly presentations on how it is meeting the requirements.
Johnson provided a 20-minute update to the board on “the critical work that needs to be done” that she said is “urgent…to achieve student academic excellence.”
Johnson shared “outcomes and improvements for Tulsa Public Schools.” She added that she is results-oriented and resilient, and provided board members thick notebooks addressing each issue that had been raised.
Strategies and Tactics
The Superintendent’s presentation first walked the board through TPS’s strategies and tactics to “make student academic performance paramount,” including the “targeting of our more vulnerable schools.” Johnson detailed a myriad of testing and site-monitoring evaluation programs that occurred on a quarterly and weekly reporting basis. She further reported that these efforts were part of the district’s strategic plan and are expected to yield improved scores on the Oklahoma State Testing Program.
Johnson and Jorge Robles, chief financial and operating officer for TPS, also shared new “internal controls” meant to shore up the security of the district’s financial system and provide greater reporting transparency to the local school board.
State School Board member Donald Burdick quizzed Johnson on the strategic plan’s Pathways to Opportunity goals, expressing a desire for faster progress on student reading proficiency. Johnson responded that she shared Burdick’s desire for “higher levels of proficiency and expectation,” but that the goals were developed based on realistic trend data working closely with teachers and other professionals. Johnson said Tulsa faces similar challenges to other urban districts in surrounding states.
“We all understand the challenges you are facing,” Burdick responded, and “Let’s not put ourselves in a box that just cannot be done.”
Board Members Praise Johnson
Johnson drew praise from the state school board members. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters welcomed Johnson to the meeting, praising her for “quickly transitioning to her new role and responsiveness to the State [education] agency.” Walters, an outspoken critic of Tulsa Public Schools, also praised Johnson for her “attitude and how forthright you have been with the board.” Walters said that he had a series of meetings with Johnson, and his views were similar to the feedback he had received from other board members.
These comments starkly contrasted with previous criticism of past Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist, who resigned last month under heavy pressure from Walters.
Walters led the OSBE to delay the accreditation of Tulsa schools in July, when annual accreditation is customarily renewed. This delay came over the objection of the state educational department’s professional staff. Walters threatened a state takeover of TPS in August calling the district “uniquely bad” before Gist stepped down from her position.
Johnson, who is African American and a 24-year TPS school veteran, was named interim superintendent last month. Tulsa Public Schools district is the state’s largest, with almost 34,000 students, predominately minority, and 77 schools.
Last month, Walters said he expected dramatic improvements in a matter of months. At the time, St. Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-73) told OSBE that timeline was unrealistic.
State Superintendent Walters made clear to Johnson that he expected faster progress and better “metrics we can look at.” Walters said the plan lacked “numbers” and “data goals.”
Johnson pointed to specific goals and data in the district strategic plan and three annual tests performed by the school district in addition to state student testing. Johnson added that neither the state board nor the education department had provided specific metrics to TPS.
TPS Board President Stacey Woolley also defended the district, saying, “We are pushing for the max while trying to be realistic.” She told the OSBE, “We are the first in the state, and maybe the nation, to have the superintendent’s evaluation based on student outcomes.” Walters replied, “We want to see these goals within the year.”
Walters had also posted the board agenda item to include possible action on TPS accreditation. The accreditation posting surprised Woolley and other Tulsa delegation members as accreditation for the state school districts is typically only reviewed annually.
While no action was taken at the meeting, TPS girded themselves by hiring Tulsa attorney J. Douglas Mann as “special counsel” before the state meeting. Johnson had recommended this action to the local board to provide advice based on his extensive educational expertise. Mann’s Legal Services Agreement requires the attorney to protect the “District in exercising their legal rights and meeting their legal obligations under state and federal law.”
The Board said they hired Mann “to maintain local control of all aspects of the District.”
Walters has consistently threatened a state takeover of the district. He alluded to it again in the OSBE meeting, concluding, “[TPS] failure won’t be an option. We will have success in Tulsa. We’ll do whatever it takes to get there.”