September 1, 2008

Leaders Brainstorm About School Dropout Prevention


Local educators joined with leaders of nonprofit groups, city government, law enforcement, students and parents Thursday to brainstorm ideas for improving graduation rates at Tulsa high schools.

The city and the University of Tulsa hosted the "Keeping Our Promise Dropout Prevention Summit" at TU.

The event was sponsored by the America's Promise Alliance, which was founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Tulsa was selected as the site of the second such summit because it ranked 12th among metropolitan areas in the U.S. for disparity of graduation rates between urban and suburban districts.

Tulsa, Union and Jenks school officials spoke about their districts' initiatives.

Roberta Ellis, assistant to the superintendent for accountability and research at Tulsa Public Schools, noted that TPS had not closed high schools even though enrollment has decreased by half over 20 to 25 years. That has brought the average student-teacher ratio to about 20-to-1, which Ellis said is critical.

"We want to maintain that small, personalized education," she said.

Still, Ellis said high schools are overdue for an overhaul.

"Our high schools look typically like the high schools that your father and grandfather went to, so we really need to look at the dynamics," she said.

Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman said dropout prevention begins with making each student feel important.

"If they can experience success, they will remain in school," he said.

Local students provided firsthand accounts.

Quenisha Pierson, a Rogers High School senior, said she stayed in school even though no other woman in her family graduated and she had a child of her own.

"It's not the school's fau it's what goes on at home," Pierson said.

Rogers sophomore Rochelle Battiest described her experience with bullies at both Rogers and the Tulsa Academic Center, an alternative school where she spent six months last year.

"It was so hard. I wanted to drop out so bad," she said of her time at the Tulsa Academic Center. "It wasn't a good idea putting all the bad kids in one place together."

Cameron Mason, who attends the Jenks Alternative Center, said he had a hard time adjusting after moving here from Texas.

"When I hit rock bottom is when I found the alternative center," he said. "It's more of a family than a school."

Ideas will be condensed into a "post-summit" plan.

Mayor Kathy Taylor said, in a press statement, "We're going to do everything we can to keep our kids in school."

Andrea Eger 581-8470

[email protected]

Originally published by ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer.

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