ImpactTulsa Supporters Call on Education Officials to Work Together and Do Things Differently (Tulsa World)

By ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer

Leaders of a new initiative to reform education across the Tulsa area issued a call on Tuesday for schools and the community entities that support them to have the courage to do things differently.

A special event marked the first report by ImpactTulsa, a collaborative partnership of 10 school districts, CareerTech, higher education, and dozens of business, philanthropic, nonprofit, civic and faith entities.

“As I talk to my colleagues around the nation about how this work progresses, they say it progresses at the speed of trust. And there is no region in the nation that has had the trust and the support and the enthusiastic work more than the superintendents in the Tulsa region,” said ImpactTulsa CEO Kathy Taylor, former Tulsa mayor and Oklahoma secretary of commerce, tourism and workforce development.

“When I first looked into creating this kind of partnership in Tulsa, I had one question: Do we have the courage to use data as a flashlight, to share, to scale best practices, the courage to set aside personal agendas and the courage to change what’s been happening for decades? … I believe the answer is yes.”

The idea for ImpactTulsa, which came from the Strive Together national network of more than 50 cities with such partnerships, is to harness the expertise, resources and a variety of perspectives from across a region to collectively set goals, work to achieve them and measure progress.

ImpactTulsa’s initial recommendations are:

  • Establish a universal kindergarten-readiness standard and measurement tool for use by the ImpactTulsa partner schools by the end of the 2015-16 school year.
  • Identify and share best practices to increase reading proficiency by third grade.
  • Increase the percentage of students graduating from high school who are ready for postsecondary education and careers.

The 10 school districts that have joined the initiative represent 90 percent of the 170,000 area students. They are Bixby, Broken Arrow, Collinsville, Jenks, Owasso, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Skiatook, Tulsa and Union.

Jeff Edmondson, managing director of Strive Together, recounted how the first partnership began in Cincinnati and two neighboring cities in Kentucky. He said the idea is simple — to “stop looking for programmatic solutions and take a systematic approach” — but that the task is a difficult marathon that requires great focus and discipline.

“When someone suggests bringing in a new program, one question that should be asked is, ‘Do we already have a program in our region that exists and can we scale it as far as we can throughout the region?’ ” Edmondson said.

“What the heck does using data as a flashlight instead of a hammer mean? Your A-F (school grading) system feels like a hammer, and, quite frankly, as an outsider, it looks like a hammer.”

He held up a copy of the new ImpactTulsa report opened to the page with third-grade reading achievement plotted out for area schools, pointing to the few dots that represent schools where achievement is high despite extreme rates of poverty.

“Let’s look at our successes and figure out how to grow them,” Edmondson said.

Union Superintendent Kirt Hartzler said Tulsa-area superintendents already collaborate more than is typical for an urban area and that contrary to political rhetoric, public school leaders embrace the use of data to drive decision-making.

“The Tulsa region has a 72.1 percent graduation rate. That’s unacceptable. I say ‘we’ because I’m not just talking about one district but all of the districts. I would expect us to be closer to 80, 84 percent,” Hartzler said.

Ray Owens said his current service as pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in north Tulsa and his past experience as a Teach for America corps member teaching in south central Los Angeles in the early 1990s inform his perspective.

“I have a first-hand view of the challenges our children face in conditions many of us would find inconceivable,” Owens said, adding that learning “in the context of acute poverty is a particularly perplexing task. … It will take the shared belief on behalf of all Tulsans that growing up poor should never, ever mean growing up poorly educated.”

Mark Graham, president and CEO of the Tulsa Area United Way, said the launch of ImpactTulsa has the potential to be a pivotal moment in the history of the Tulsa metro area.

He said his counterpart in the Oklahoma City metro area “marvels at the ability of our community to collaborate as a funding community,” and yet, he said he thinks ImpactTulsa “is going to challenge our courage a bit as funders” because it may require major shifts in focus and financial investments.

Andrea Eger 918-581-8470

Photo credit: MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World

First posted on Tulsa World: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 2:04 am, Wed Oct 22, 2014.