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McLain High School: Take The Survey, Get Involved, Programs Coming Up, and My McLain Responses

We had the privilege of walking with McLain students in the Martin Luther King Parade this year. We are working with McLain not only in the School Foundation but also in its Smart Choices=Healthy Living grant. In February students will come to our community center for a program learning about food justice and helping us with our food pantry serving the McLain High and Sperry High district zipcodes, and in March they will come to our community gardenpark and orchard serving our neighborhoods for more learning and giving back to the community. It continues our partnership of the past few years, and reminds us we need to do more. So many great programs here; so many great students there.

The school needs community residents of the McLain district to respond to an online survey that is crucial as leaders work on recommendations for changes at the school. Go to this link for a quick survey:

And here is my own personal response about McLain from the survey questions:

I am promoting the survey that Tulsa Public Schools is conducting for McLain High School in its pivotal study year, and so for transparency I thought I would post my own responses that just flowed as i filled out the survey. It is probably missing a lot, and there will be things I think of later I wish I had added, but this is what it is. Bottom line: A paradigm shift is needed in who we think a school is for, and Whose it is.  The mission of the school is not ultimately the education of particular individual students; instead the education of the particular individual students is the means to the broader end: the improvement of the community; this is why we build schools in the first place and place them where we do (and it is, btw, the biggest danger in the community-breaking model of for profit online schools that continue to separate students and families from their neighbors); the mission of the school is to impact and improve the community in which it lives and breathes and has its being, and to do that it educates that community's children, but the community matters and the community is intertwined mutually into the lifeblood of the mission of the school, and when that is severed, as it has historically been with McLain, and of course others but probably not to the extent as at McLain, then the school and the community suffers, and not just the beacon school, the high school, but in turn all the way down through the schools connected to it from the earlier years. 

So with that preamble, here is my response:

What are McLain High School’s  strengths?
Its committed faculty and staff, and the students who are overcoming tremendous challenges to grow into responsible adulthood and to learn how to give back to their community. Also its location in the heart of far north Tulsa, right on Peoria near several commercial areas and residential neighborhoods. And don't forget, its amazing alumni that bridge a vast array of ethnic backgrounds and who now are involved in many careers and professions and businesses. Also the untold story of how the school takes students reading at such a low level, for example, when they come in at, for example, 9th grade and by the time they graduate they have made up so much skills that they lacked before; if other schools had the same starting point, there would be more similarity in the outcomes, though other factors still would need to be worked on.

What are McLain High School’s challenges?
Lack of funding from the state. Lack of investment by TPS in a turnaround strategy that will give a core faculty and staff a ten year framework, modelling stability from the top instead of the merry go round of administrative changes over the past ten years or more. Lack of immediate surrounding community involvement in the school, and the school in the immediate surrounding community from which the students come. Schools do not exist in a vacuum but are there for the ultimate improvement not only of individual students but of the communities in which and for which they were created; communities and geographic neighborhoods matter; as the surrounding neighborhoods declined, in an historical mutuality with the decline of course offerings and resources for the school, it affected the school. We need to, instead of building up barriers between school and those who live around it, open up the doors and see the school as a community institution day and night serving the deep needs of the community for which it is the leading institution, the beacon still as it was in 1959 when it was begun. As above, if the feeder schools and students coming into the high school are not given top priority for funding in the district, and if the communities where the students live are not funded and re-grown, then the school will be on a treadmill or path of surviving instead of thriving because we are dealing with systemic issues, not issues related just to an educational institution. In sum, the challenges are mostly extrinsic to McLain and tinkering within McLain over the years only misdirects where the funding and resources and committments and risk-taking need to go.

What recommendations would you have for McLain High School?

In no particular order of importance:
1. Know the history of McLain, understand it, from day one to today; see the challenges it has always faced, hear the stories of alumni from all the years, and the faculty and the staff from 1959 on; discern what happened, growing from the evil of segregation in which it and others were founded even as late as 1959, to the early in its years first steps of integration, and its successes as well as challenges as it integrated rapidly and several years before Washington High did with its magnet program, and yet at the same time as it began to be integrated its course offerings for college prep began to dwindle, and with it, as well as the evil of white flight and the racist response to integration, fueled the real and imagined decline perspectives. Understand the many issues around the name change controversies, that still linger. See what happened to the school in direct correlation and causation with the important and needed Washington magnet program, and own the consequences of that action. Fully know the history face-on and how the history of the school and the history of the neighborhoods in its district are intertwined. You can’t change one without changing the other. It must be a holistic approach.
2, To make up for historic neglect, and to show the way for others: commit to a 10 year turnaround investment that rewards faculty and staff and get committments to stability. It takes leadership that is non-anxious, and that is connected to the surrounding community, that relates to alumni as well and the resources they can bring, to be able to weather the storms and change the culture of the system and to institute the other changes needed; if we keep creating new programs but having them be administered by new staff and leaders it is self-defeating. Good news is that with the 7-12 format, if space issues can ever be resolved and other problems with that experiement, that it gives you a good six years with a student in which culture change in a system can happen, with students and with their families.Even if 9-12 is kept, this culture change can happen with right leaders who come from the neighborhoods and from alumni and can connect with them, so that a bright student in our neighborhoods here will not automatically think, or their parents think, they must leave McLain or never attend there.
3. Drop the "Science and Technology" from the school name and way it is known and promoted. Other schools even if they might have an appendage like that are known still as "Webster High or Memorial High or etc etc" and by adding science and technology, as well intentioned as it might have been for pushing a so-called magnet program that focused on future job requirements, it sends a signal that it is a glorified vo-tech, that it is like the old "Manual" schools of segregated era. Let it once again simply be McLain High School; those who dream of college prep for their students will not feel they need to send their kids out of the district.
4. Cut back, way back, across the district on the ability to go out of the neighborhood to attend public school; connect the neighborhoods back to the schools; when students in a neighborhood go to ten different educational venues instead of a common one, then it hinders the community connections that hurt the area and which we have seen directly hurt the schools in those communities. This will always be an issue in our new era, but we can reduce its effects.
5. Relocate some high academic programs to McLain similar to what was/is used to attract to Washington; like many urban districts across the country TPS has especially at McLain virtually become resegregated; we need to have "disruptive innovation" here as we did once at Washington. How about some super summer program that will bring in the best minds from across the district.
6. Use Monroe School again, (or Cherokee also on North peoria nearby) which were both built for junior high, for the 7th and 8th grades, which frees up space at McLain High school for creating a Center for Community Learning; turn McLain not just into a high school but also educate those families of the high school students, and their neighbors; use the Center or the school as a Non-profit resource center in the midst of the classes, relocating services to the school instead of trying to get the students to get their families to take them to the health and other services and programs for enrichment elsewhere. See the building use ratio of space to students as an opportunity to bring in the community and improve the community right around the school. Or a Center For Racial Justice, or Understanding Poverty, something that will make McLain stand out on a national scale.
7. Get the alumni from every decade intimately involved in the turnaround.

Other comments:
This is vital. Ask OU Tulsa Medical school for example and they will say that the best way to meet the physician shortage in north tulsa is to get medical students who have come from north tulsa themselves; the same goes for principals; and yet is McLain capable now of still producing graduates who go on to become physicians, or principals, etc? If it is not capable of doing this, then all the rest that others try to do for our area will hit a brick wall because it takes people from an area to best relate with it and to have the passion and committment to return and stay and work for the community. The medical schools and other institutions are now, belatedly, committing to helping direct their graduates back into our community, if they can find the students who will do so; we have to do our part to help in the high school to prepare our students, our children, so they can become those leaders. This seems like an outlandish dream to people outside our area who think nothing such can come from our area and our kids, and too often we buy into that as well, and too often with our funding choices and other decisions we further that notion; but we have to break out of it.
The area around McLain will continue to change; we will see some increasing "white" increase in some of the areas in the McLain district, as well as growing hispanic presence. Maybe a Center for Reconciliation, connected to the John Hope Franklin Center, perhaps an offshoot or housing it at the school, to help students and the neighborhoods to learn better to live in the new multi ethnic culture fast approaching; team with YWCA to work with all students, white,brown, black, to understand and be able to become leaders themselves of the dialogue on race and class. turn what others see as a weakness and challenge into a strength. sometimes our students can be better teachers about issues of class and poverty and related issues than anyone else, if given the chance and space, and that kind of turning loose their inherent strengths can give them confidence to develop others. What do they already know that other students in Tulsa don't? Build on those. Their survival skills are amazing and they someone to point these out and nurture them and put them into use teaching others; from that will come miracles. 

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