In addition to the supremely important task of educating our children, Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) is one of the top two largest employers and a major owner of real property in the city.[1] The importance of the schools to the health of the city should not be underestimated or ignored. Since 1977 the TPS enrollment has declined from over 61,000 students to around 42,000 and the minority population has increased from around 20% to over 65%.

Many students come from families with incomes below the city’s median income.[2] Most of the schools are older structures with extensive deferred maintenance. Union and Jenks Public Schools are younger districts but are beginning to face some of the same issues as TPS.

Tulsa’s Community Service Council has established the Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative to address the many needs students have to succeed academically and create schools that are centers for their communities.[3]

So far, eighteen TPS and Union elementary schools have been designated community schools. A variety of programs and services are offered at the schools to help unite them with families and neighborhoods: some of the schools have health clinics which see students and their families, others have early childhood development centers, and still others have community gardens and nutritional programs just to illustrate a few. [4]

While the schools are administrated independently, the City of Tulsa should work with them to embrace and expand the community school program.[5] As centers of the community, schools are anchors for neighborhoods.[6] Sidewalks and bicycle networks should lead to the schools and be expanded.[7]

A program to replace and upgrade school facilities should be expanded, especially in areas suitable for urban homesteading.

Funds might also be raised to build early childhood centers, clinics, and community facilities which could be shared by the schools, the city and the neighborhoods. With extensive grounds, many schools already function as de facto parks and the opportunity for a partnership with the city’s parks department can also be explored.

Notes

[1] According to the University of Tulsa, Collins School of Business, Career Center, Tulsa Public Schools, Walmart, and American Airlines are the three largest employers in Tulsa, each with around 7,000 employees. Refer to: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCsQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.utulsa.edu%2F~%2Fmedia%2FFiles%2FBusiness%2FBusCareer%2FOther%2520Resources%2FTulsa%2520Largest%2520Employers%25205-2011.ashx&ei=HUSwU8aMMoKuyASam4DgDw&usg=AFQjCNHSBD4mPh_qnboSHozhFk3i8HuRRg&bvm=bv.69837884,d.aWw.

[2] Data as reported in the PlaniTulsa overview PowerPoint presentation prepared by the City of Tulsa Planning Department in the spring of 2008. Page 17 contains historical school enrollments for Tulsa, Union and Jenks Public Schools.

[3] An overview of the Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative can be found here: http://www.tacsi.org/. More information can be found about community schools at: http://www.communityschools.org/.

[4] Tulsa Educare has received national attention as a model for early childhood education: http://www.educaretulsa.org/. Global Gardens has developed community gardens at two schools: http://www.global-gardens.org/.

[5] Another city with a community schools program is Knoxville, Tennessee. Learn more about their efforts at: http://ourcommunityschools.org/

[6] A bibliography of sources for the role of schools and community education in neighborhood planning is available at Neighborhood Planning website created by Louis Colombo and Ken Balizer at:

http://www.neighborhoodplanning.org/topic10_community-education.htm.

[7] See the National Center for Safe Routes to School for a comprehensive overview of this topic: http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/.

Editor’s Note:

This series of articles by Shawn Michael Schaefer was originally published in March, 2009 on his Places LLC WordPress Blog site under the heading Ten Strategies for the City of Tulsa’s Future Planning and Growth then revised June, 2014 and reprinted here with permission from the author.

 

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