Happy New Year, Tulsa! Like a new school year, the start of a new calendar year is full of opportunities and hopes. The new year is an opportunity to reflect on where we have been and explore what lies ahead in the coming year.
The team at Tulsa Public Schools accomplished great things. Despite facing crisis-level staffing challenges and an underfunded public education system, I am proud that we continue to:
Increase access to technology and career education programs with high demand options such as aerospace, manufacturing, construction, and embedded Tulsa Tech programs;
Increase the number of bilingual programs available — now more than double — with offers in every area of the city;
Expanding Montessori to western Tulsa, making Tulsa Public Schools the only district in our state to offer public Montessori education;
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Giving students a head start for college credit (and even an associate’s degree), with concurrent enrollment now available to all eligible high school students and three college start colleges in McLain, Memorial and Rogers; and
Prepare our youngest learners for lifelong success with full-day kindergarten programs at every elementary school in our district.
Tulsans, of course, continues to step up to support our students and teachers. There are many examples of community members helping each other in big and small ways. These are just a few:
At Robertson Elementary, alumni get together to provide holiday food baskets for every family in the school;
Black Men in White Coats, Hillcrest Healthcare System and the University of Tulsa hosted a summit where more than 200 middle and high school students had hands-on opportunities to learn about careers in healthcare;
Transformation Church surprises Webster High School seniors with a holiday “shopping” at Target;
An anonymous donor gave each student artist involved in the McLain High School “Jordan 1” project a new pair of Jordans; and
Eight of our schools experienced a more than 100% increase in their parent/teacher association membership.
As we enter 2023, I am encouraged by recent statements from state leaders in support of a raise in the salaries of our hardworking teachers. I hope the leaders of this state and others will continue to advocate for the kind of professional and competitive salary our educators need and deserve when the legislative session begins in February.
Recognition of the need to modernize our country’s funding formula is also growing.
Increasing investment in our students with the greatest needs, such as students with special needs and those whose families are struggling financially, can allow us to make class sizes more manageable, increase desirable programming, pay support professionals decent salaries and grow the support we provide to us students with additional needs. Doing so would benefit all Oklahoma residents.
Our people are our state’s greatest natural resource, and we need our state’s leaders to invest in a way that values Oklahoma’s children and families, keeps them here in Oklahoma, and prepares them to help our state thrive. — now and in the future.
As we enter this new year, I hope that—as many Tulsans have repeatedly done—our state’s leaders will step up to support education by investing in our students and the committed educators who make our schools special places for children. Oklahoma children to study. learn and grow.
Deborah Gist has been superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools since 2015 and a former member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Council.