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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. 


Wade in the Waters: Connecting with Beloved Community Here in 2013

Wade in the Waters of 2013: A Place For You Here in Beloved Community
Special note: Community Breakfast Saturday, Jan. 12, from 8 to 10 am at the Odd Fellows Lodge, 6227 N. Quincy Ave., $5 all you care to eat. Support this group that supports our community.
Special Thanks: To Tulsa Community Foundation, the Anita Hill Foundation, Community of Hope, Elks Lodge for recent donations, and to our generous individuals who support us with monthly gifts and with special project gifts; we continue to be volunteer based and in need of more grant and individual support (when i hear the numbers tossed around in local state and federal debates about monies spent, and think what we could do with such an infitesmial portion of that, and what we do with what is given, it astounds me still) but we are immensely grateful for recent gifts and look forward to the new year of surprising the world of scarcity here due to the surprises we will receive from you and yours.
One of the biblical stories being lifted up this Sunday during the Epiphany and new year Season in churches across many denominations is the story of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer. John had formed a community of radical forgiveness out in the wilderness away from the places and people of power. Jesus, in coming to John, and stepping into the symbol-rich waters of liberation connects with, and later challenges, John’s community, and the spirit of God then blesses and names Jesus as Beloved, signaling the beginning of his own missional ministry of blessing the outcast and sharing God’s naming of Beloved with those without name and standing in the society.
It begins with going into the water, seeking community, discovering your deepest sense of Whose you are, being refreshed in the Spirit and then going forth into service.
Last Sunday at our 10th Anniversary Celebration here, we paused and were refreshed with the presence of one another, and our neighbors here, and visitors who came to celebrate with us in worship, in meal, and in companionship, getting to know more of our journey these past ten years. We celebrate the past in order to let it become the past, learning from it in order to keep wading into the waters of life and renewal around us, expanding the Beloved Community to all the places and people who touch us and whom we touch.
Take Your Step Into The Water With Us…
Here below are some of the ways we are still stepping into the waters, responding to the call of community based on radical forgiveness and justice for all, and inviting others to experience the sense and spirit of the Beloved Presence that presents itself to us as a gift continually. We will be sharing hopes and plans and ways that we can be and become more community even as we practice and point toward it now. Baptism is a sign of something new, and yet a sign of something everlasting at the same time; in this vein, as a community on this particular Sunday celebration of the baptism of Jesus, how do and can we show evidence of our communal baptism, of our newness, of our being Beloved, of our renewal to share with others?
1. Our Food Community. We are moving toward creating a new space at the Community Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave. that will allow us to better embody our different approach to providing food for the hungry, one that does not treat people as clients at a service agency, but as brothers and sisters in the neighborhood. We are working on expanding the pantry into more of an old-fashioned style Neighborhood Corner Pantry where people shop from shelves and our freezers as if they were in a store where the food had to be purchased. We will be painting new space for it, and moving into it. This will free up one room for a much needed downstairs small more private meeting room. Part of our Food Community is also the GardenKitchenPark and Orchard, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave., from which some of our food comes, and now we are hoping to move forward with plans for creating more welcome there by putting in wheelchair accessible paths to some of our garden beds, and more accessible beds. It is one of the winter-time hardscape projects we would like to accomplish with your help, especially bearing in mind the people who ride on their motorized scooters past the park on their way from homes to the grocery store on North Peoria and back up the hill past us to their homes again. Helping them grow their own food and to give away, all in community, is important.
On Friday, Jan. 25 from 11 am to Noon at the Center we will be expanding our food outreach to many more hungry families who haven’t been aware of us, through our mobile van food giveaway; this time we are reaching out through nearby schools to identify the families in need whom we will give vouchers for the event to come get some 60-80 pounds of food. We are hopeful we can do this throughout the year again, targeting different schools and their families as a way to make them aware of us and to get them into our ongoing regular food community where we have our nutritional consultant and other programs and connect them with our garden and events. If you are in a school in our 74126 74130 and 74073 area and would like to participate sometime this year with us please let me know.
2. Our Center Community. We are working on being a more hospitable place in the midst of much scarcity by improving our own restrooms, and our GardenArt Room, and our emerging Crafts and Sewing Coop Room, and by installing washer and dryer for those in need, especially in light of the closing of our community’s closest laundramat, the one we used to have our Center next to. We have recently expanded lighting on the outside of our Center, some for security but also so it will be able to be used more often especially when the inside of the building is not open. We are looking at ways to create a public access Little Free Library outside at the Center, part of a nationwide movement for those (see and also put them out in the community, at the gardenpark and along the bike trail and with partner businesses and O’Brien Park, etc. wherever people go by, and perhaps also at the center a small Giveaway Food Spot on the outside of the building (imagine being able to get some fruit or small items without having to go inside, trying to catch us open; a way of expressing radical abundance and hospitality especially to those who might be homeless). And to create some sit down spaces in our courtyards outside the building, where our free wifi can be accessed as well. The more we claim our own grounds, by offering to give the grounds away to others, the more we show that our area is not one being neglected, and so we invite the care of others and not the neglect or destruction of others. As part of our 2013 Center Renovation we are also expanding and creating a better Clothing and Items Giveaway Store in our South Building which begins our use of it for the public and not just for storage of items we are selling to raise funds. Gradually as we can we will fix up and expand more into that largest of all our spaces. We are also hoping someone will take the lead on bringing back our monthly or making it a weekly Game Night at the Center. And help plan trips together for our area residents. Finally in our Center Community we have need of helpers to work with us on the old parsonage to secure it for its transformation and uses too. We worry about it because due to its openness and past neglect; it is like so many of our structures in the neighborhood here around us that have recently been set on fire. With a little focused attention it can continue to be changed into some kind of place of use and beauty.
We are again blessed to partner with OU Graduate Social Work students this semester to help us in many of these areas above, and connect the wisdom of our residents with their service learning needs. We hope to connect with many other universities and programs, public and private and seminaries; just about every degree program could find a way to connect student projects with our area.
3. Again this year we will take the values of our group and our projects and put them on parade…the Monday, Jan. 21 Martin Luther King, Jr. parade to be precise, and this year we will be joined in the parade with our partners, the McLain High School students and the project we are working on with them called Healthy Living=Smart Choices. Come walk with us as we honor Dr. King and highlight our partnerships. In February and in March we will host events for the students at the center and at the park in keeping with the goals of the project; more on those later, but if you would like to help us create those events let us know. Come meet the students and staff during the parade. We are also looking for a truck or a van for the parade as well that we can decorate and use. We will be doing parade planning during our common meal this Sunday at noon lunch.
4. Beyond our own properties and projects on them, we wade this year into the waters of our community of far north Tulsa and Turley. We need non profits who want to serve in our area who might carry out some of their programs or use office space in the closed Cherokee School; we are working on strategies to repurpose and put back into use our wonderful school building on North Peoria and in the process provide a win-win by purchasing it from the Tulsa School District to help their financial status which has suffered from the injustices on the state level that are trying to gut public education and in so doing fragment further our communities and our peoples. We are also this month organizing to start a much needed Senior Citizens Center in our area which we haven’t had since federal funding for it was eliminated several years ago; we are looking for people to help be on our steering committee and a new nonprofit board to run it. We are working and needing volunteers soon to help us help the Turley Area Volunteer Fire Dept conduct a campaign to become an independent Fire District which will both raise funds and improve services in our area, which has suffered from wildfires and arson so much, but also help reduce the cost on residences by sharing the costs more widely through property tax assessments for the district which will in almost all cases be lower in actual taxes than what the fire dept dues are now. We need people to help us market the campaign, raise funds for the campaign, and soon begin getting petition signatures. We talk and plan about many of these ventures at our monthly gatherings: First Thursdays at 3:30 pm at the community center, and on the Last Tuesdays, this month Jan. 29, at 6 pm for planning and then 7 pm for TownHall at O’Brien Park Center, 6147 N. Birmingham.
5. We continue to need help to get out the visuals and the message about all our unhealthy abandoned burned down buildings that remain open and accessible to kids and are an eyesore in our community, especially those on our major streets like Peoria Ave. it takes constant pressure on county and health dept officials to keep the pressure on property owners, many or most who don’t live in our area, to clean up the properties….We are working to try to improve our area and support existing businesses and welcome in new ones; also trying to help hold existing businesses accountable for environmental care of our community, and have been working with the Turley Community Association and county officials on issues related to the metal crusher. We also are hoping to highlight the need for more community neighborhood watch and better work with area law enforcement, and getting law enforcement to come meet with community residents and answer questions at the monthly Town Hall where the deputies haven’t been in months. Those residents who have suffered from recent rash of burglaries and other concerns are especially invited to the community center each last Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm to connect with the Turley Area Alliance Against Crime….And we hope to pick back up on our discussions about helping run the affordable housing project in our surrounding area, helping to keep houses from becoming abandoned, and therefore streets from becoming neglected, and thus being claimed by those who prey upon people and property most vulnerable.
6. I went to a public hearing this past week on plans for improving the bus system in Tulsa. My witness was both pro and con; first pro is that going to a rapid bus transit system is a great plan for both economic development and social justice, especially as it begins to make it easier for people to be on foot, and easier for people who are on foot to be able to get to jobs and health care and community events. It is one of the most important investments our wider community can make, even those who are privileged, so to speak, to not have to need mass transit even though many who can afford not to use it do want to have better options and incentives for using it; better for pocketbooks, better for the environment, better for personal health, better for building community connections. The con is that even though the system prioritizes the 105 Route which goes along North Peoria, from here in our community at 66th St. N. south, the proposed plans for increasing the frequency of service would not extend to our far north, 46th St. and north on Peoria, McLain High School service area and neighborhoods, new Health Department Wellness Center neighborhoods, here where we serve in a much abandoned area. This plan continues to offer little to nothing more than what is currently available to our local area residents, even though it is overall a good plan needed for the greater area. The plan’s new stations (four along South Peoria and only two along North Peoria) are not in our far north area, and would only begin by the Dept. of Human Services building at 38th and North Peoria; the immense neighborhoods north of the divide geographically of the Flat Rock Creek Basin would have nothing new offered except if they are able to get to the new station at DHS they could if they desired get off their bus and wait for a rapid transit bus when it came; very little time incentive is aided. In one of the discarded plans there was floated an option to provide shuttle service throughout the McLain school and Turley neighborhoods that would take people to the proposed new station, but because of stated costs concerns it was dropped. There are geographic differences because of the Flat Rock Creek basin; those north of it are naturally cut off except by Peoria from the areas south of the creek basin, and it affects the identity and ability for walking south on Peoria. It is why the current 105 is so important and why its frequency needs to be increased; without the frequency increase and other improvements there is not the incentive to use it as often as it needs to be used, and people use that lack of use for a catch-22 of not making the moral imperative and economic incentive needed for our low income lowest life expectancy area.
Even at the truncanted service plan that doesn’t extend rapid service all the way along the line north, the plan is worthy of support and is running into opposition, and will more I suspect, from those with short-sighted economic lens, social justice lens, and those who equate poor people with criminals and don’t want poor people riding buses into their neighborhoods for work, or shopping or services that are not available where we live.
And even if it were to be approved as is currently it would still be three years before the plan was fully implemented. But, even so, it is worth it to keep learning, discussing, planning, dreaming, all for the way we can raise consciousness about these vital issues. For example, one recent conversation I had with an economic leader for poor communities about the issues of lack of transportation options and how it holds back the vulnerable led us to the idea of taking our radical health care from the ground up plan we had envisioned a few years ago with OU but never implemented, for neighborhood health advocates and connecters, and turning it into a neighborhood transportation plan, where you help pay gasoline and some car expenses for neighbors who will help drive neighbors to the places needed to go. That kind of personal jitney service, volunteer taxi type services, can be part of the broader picture, just as we need to concentrate on educating and equipping our residents and our area with better and safer bicycling options; though none of this is ever a replacement for the benefits of mass transit.
Let your voices be heard. Go learn more at and and send your comments and ideas to I think given the opposition they are already encountering because of the estimated costs of providing faster bus service to the poor that the plan should go in all the way and truly present a plan that serves the poor and helps increase economic incentives for areas to attract businesses and residents; if you are going to go down, go down big; you might be surprised; so put in at least one more rapid transit bus enhanced station on the northside, make it four on south Peoria and three on north Peoria at least, and have one of those stations be here in the heart of our business area at the grocery store at 62nd and North Peoria, or at the least up near McLain High School perhaps at the current stop at the old McLain Shopping Center that is sorely in need of a boost. It is the right thing to do, and in the long run, perhaps the next generation, it will be the cost-effective thing to do, as any and all investment in the northside is and will be though it is invisible to our outward eyes.
So, These are the kinds of daily waters of mission we are wading in to so far this 2013; we experience such a feeling of Beloved Community when we do so, and invite you to experience it with us by connecting with us in one of these endeavors. Or sharing with others who might find inspiration in serving with us.
P.S. Our worshipping community gathers on Sunday for conversation, communion, common meal, and connections, from 10 am to 1 pm here at the community center
Thanks, blessings, and more soon,
Ron Robinson