Education

Tulsa Public Schools may have a solution for its Indian Education program

TULSA, Okla. — After multiple meetings and a barrage of criticism from the Native community, Tulsa Public Schools has a new reorganization proposal for its Indian Education program.

At its April 14 meeting, the Tulsa Public Schools Title VI parent committee endorsed a reorganization for the district’s Indian Education program that as presented, would allow all of its current resource advisers and teachers’ assistants to keep their jobs.

If approved by the school board, TPS’ Indian Education program would have six resource advisers, six teachers’ assistants, a Native American literature teacher who would split time among up to four middle schools per year, two clerical positions and funding to cover stipends for 30 after school tutors.

One of the resource advisers would serve in a lead role and be a bridge between the district and tribal education officials, as well as help connect families with summer cultural activities offered outside of TPS.

TPS Indian Education currently has seven resource advisers and four teachers’ assistants. One of the resource advisers has already notified district officials of his intent to retire at the end of this school year.

The reorganization would also change the job title and pay scale for the person directly over the program. The program is currently overseen by an interim manager after the previous manager, Dee Prevett, resigned in March. Prevett’s leadership and salary were the subjects of a grievance filed by some of the Indian Education staff earlier this school year. Instead, the position would once again be classified as a coordinator, which would result in a lower pay scale.

“Based on community input, this is much more in line with what’s desired for the program,” Executive Director of Language and Cultural Services Laura Grisso said. 

In addition to consultations with the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Osage nations, the district has started initial conversations with five additional tribes under the terms of the Every Student Succeeds Act: the Iowa Nation, the Sac and Fox Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Pawnee Nation and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.  

District officials have maintained that a reorganization is necessary due to a drop in Native student enrollment based on the 506 forms returned by parents that are used to determine federal and tribal per-pupil funding. District enrollment overall has declined by about 5,000 students since the 2004-2005 school year.

Citing budget cuts, the district initially announced in January that it was overhauling the Indian Education Program and all of its current resource advisers would have to either reapply for their current job or be reassigned to another position within the district. Tribal officials, parents and students were not consulted in advance, drawing backlash from across the Tulsa area.  

“As difficult as this has been … I appreciate all the engagement,” Superintendent Deborah Gist said. “I’m hearing great things about what the Indian Ed staff is doing during this distance learning time. We have an opportunity with increased attention to continue to grow and do amazing things with this.”

With public school buildings closed due to the novel coronavirus, the parent committee met via Zoom. A video of the district’s presentation to the parent committee is available on the TPS Indian Education Facebook page.

The proposal will go before the board of education for informational purposes at its April 20 meeting. It is scheduled to receive a formal up or down vote by the board on May 4. If approved by the school board, the program’s budget will then go to the parent committee for approval at its May 12 meeting.