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Students sitting on the floor listening to their teacher.

In 2016-2017, Tulsa Public Schools started our journey to Destination Excellence to become the home of top educators and a proof point for what is possible in urban public education. Our mission: to inspire and prepare every student to love learning, achieve ambitious goals, and make positive contributions to our world.

The 2019-2020 school year marks our fourth year of Destination Excellence, and we have made some important gains: double-digit increase in our graduation rate; continued academic growth based on NWEA MAP assessments; and significant improvement in employee engagement.

During that time, we have also heard from our parents and families about what's working and what isn't, and this year we have an opportunity to evolve our district to ensure that we are meeting the demands and expectations of the families we serve. We need to both improve the experiences that Tulsans have in our district and redesign our system to make teaching and learning in Tulsa more equitable and more accessible.

"With the focus on shaping our future for our long-term success, we are undertaking three important areas this year: implementation of a unified enrollment system; exploring the creation of more consistency among our grade configurations; evaluating our budget structure to identify strategic investments and resource allocations to help our schools thrive with the really significate fiscal constraints that we have as a state and a district," Superintendent Deborah A. Gist said.

Implementing An Improved Enrollment System:

Our families have made it clear that our current enrollment system is confusing. We have different enrollment application windows and timelines across the district, different types of applications and application processes, and our application windows are not aligned to allow families to have the largest range of choices possible.

We want to make it simple and easy for families to choose - and stay with - Tulsa Public Schools and we think an improved enrollment system is a step forward.

"An improved enrollment system means that families have one application and one application period. They can choose among multiple schools and rank them in order of their preference. They have access to relevant and timely information to help them make decisions about their child's education," Gist said.

For the 2019-2020 school year, we will launch an improved enrollment system for children who are enrolling in the 2020-2021 school year.

While you will see changes to the technical side of this process, the rules for who we accept in our schools will not change.

"It's important to know, the rules, the criteria, and the priorities about school selection and how those things work, what it takes to get into a school, who decides who gets into them, those are not changing. What we are changing are the technical aspects of how the process happens, not the requirements around the school selection practices," Gist said.

Creating Consistency In Grade Configurations:

We know that transitions can be hard for students, and we want to minimize the number of times they move between schools.

Within Tulsa Public Schools, there are 14 different grade configurations district-wide, causing our system to be difficult to navigate.

"We want to create consistency in our system that makes it much more clear for families about the point of time when students move from one type of school to another - elementary, middle and high school as children get older," Gist said.

This year, we are looking at our current structures, looking at how to best configure our grade structure, and working with our school teams to plan our next steps.

Identifying Strategic Investments and Resource Allocations:

From 2008 to 2018, Oklahoma cut more per pupil to education than any other state in the country. Some funding has been restored in the last few years, but what has been reinvested is not close to addressing the major cuts.

There have been increases in state funding for education over the last few years, but most of that has been set aside for much needed salary increases; however, that still leaves Tulsa Public Schools $22 million short in State Aid funding compared to our 2008-2009 levels. Taxes have offset some of that loss, but that still does not negate the fact that our state has much more to do in order to restore the funding cuts from the past decade, and much more work has to be done to make us a top-ten state.

Since the 2015-2016 school year, we have made $22 million in cuts, including district office reorganizations, school closures and consolidations, and changes to transportation services. Even with those cost-saving measures, for the first time in a decade, we had to use our fund balance to fill the gap in the 2018-2019 school year.

"It was an explicit decision that we made to stabilize our system so that we got out of this cutting, cutting, cutting, so we could take a step back and make really smart choices about how to change structurally what we need to do to operate within our means," said Gist.

Gist said that can't continue. Moving forward, Tulsa Public Schools is going to work with the community to understand core initiatives, services and supports, and what people value the most.

"That's hard because we value a lot of things and we're going to have to be choosing among things we value," Gist said.

The work ahead will be challenging, but we have an exciting chance to design the best possible school system that we can for the children and families we serve. We have an opportunity to develop a strategy that will help us to thrive within the means we have been given with the state's investment in education.

We look forward to working alongside our team and community to shape the future of Tulsa Public Schools as a place where families and educators choose to stay because the experience is unmatched in excellence.

Below you will find a list of community engagement meetings that we highly encourage everyone to attend.

Thursday, October 10

East Central High School
12150 E. 11th St.

5:30-8:00 p.m.