June 24, 2008

TAC Blasted in Report


Read the report summary about failings at the school.

The school board's attorney found "a completely inadequate response" to problems at the school.

The Tulsa school board made public Monday a summary of an investigative report that found "a completely inadequate response" to serious and repeated problems at the Tulsa Academic Center in its first year of operation.

Nearly all aspects of the alternative school -- staffing levels, classroom materials, student record-keeping, oversight and its treatment of special education students -- are described with unflattering adjectives such as "poor,""unacceptable,""insufficient,""unorganized" and "incomprehensible."

The 18-page summary was digested from a 33-page report prepared for the board by its attorney, Doug Mann, and his law firm, Rosenstein Fist and Ringold.

Board President Gary Percefull said the full report would not be released because it includes confidential information that "may lead to the demotion, discipline, or requested resignation of district personnel."

The Tulsa World requested a copy of the report under the Oklahoma Open Records Act on June 2, immediately after the board received it from Mann.

Percefull had asked for the inquiry in mid-April, one month after the Tulsa World began a series of stories documenting accounts by teachers, parents and students of overcrowding and violence in the school's Performance Training Program.

The attorneys' investigation confirmed that the Tulsa Academic Center was used as a "dumping ground" for problem students from middle schools and high schools and that fighting in the school was so routine by December that its employees began referring to it as the "Jerry Springer Show."

Other key findings:

The lack of an appeals process or administrative review of student referrals from the students' home schools led to overcrowding.

Enrollment and attendance records were in a "horrible state of affairs" by October or November, so much so that investigators deemed it "impossible" to determine how many of the 1,025 students who were referred to the Tulsa Academic Center actually attended it.

The Tulsa Academic Center suspended 346 students, while 216 students successfully completed the PTP program and returned to their home schools.

Too few special education teachers were assigned to the school, and the three who were there by December spent "virtually all of their time" handling paperwork and not instruction.

The school had almost no appropriate Individualized Education Programs for special education students, as required by federal law.

The investigation also concluded that there was "a completely inadequate response from responsible personnel throughout the district" to resolve the many issues that were brought to the attention of ranking administrators as early as October or November.

Superintendent Michael Zolkoski, who founded the Tulsa Academic Center based on programs that he had introduced in other school districts where he had been a superintendent, is proceeding with plans for the school's second year of operation in 2008-09.

But at least one board member said Zolkoski is doing so without her support.

Oma Copeland announced at Monday's meeting that she wants the public to know that she does not want to see the school reopened, "because there are no iron-clad plans at this time."

Zolkoski has said enrollment in the school would be capped at 150 students so principals "can't just dump a bunch of people." He also announced at Monday's meeting that Candas Bullock, an assistant principal at Central High School, would be the principal at the Tulsa Academic Center in 2008-09.

Percefull said at a board retreat Saturday that the board will require more planning and oversight for the school's continued operation.

In other business, the board voted Monday to hire the firm Management of America to evaluate all of the district's alternative education programs, including the Tulsa Academic Center.

The firm's report is due by Sept. 12. It will be paid up to $67,274.

Andrea Eger 581-8470

[email protected]

Originally published by ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer.

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