Another new charter school has created a place in north Tulsa and is ready to make an impact on students.
Lighthouse Academy, located in the former Greeley Elementary School facility, opens this month, welcoming 280 students in prekindergarten through fourth grade. Like KIPP Tulsa, Lighthouse Academy is part of a national network of schools focused on preparing students for college.
Founded in 2003, the Lighthouse Academies network now operates in six states and the District of Columbia, serving approximately 5,300 students. Of those students, 79 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch and the majority are ethnic minorities.
Tulsa’s Lighthouse Academy is the first school in the network to be located in Oklahoma. Michael Ronan, CEO and founder of Lighthouse Academies, discussed the idea of bringing an academy to Tulsa for more than a year. He met with individuals in the north Tulsa community, visited churches, talked with Tulsa Public Schools officials and recruited board members.
The key to making the school a reality, though, was a transition team made up of Teach for America corps members in Tulsa. Starting in August 2011, the team researched testing and curriculum approaches and worked to create a presence for Lighthouse in the community, as well as helped write the school charter and ensured it was accepted.
Lighthouse Academy was approved in January 2012, and Jamila MacArthur was hired as the founding school leader in February.
A native of Clinton, Okla., who previously taught in Los Angeles, MacArthur says she was drawn to the Lighthouse model because it will add a grade level each year, allowing her to see students grow and develop until they graduate from high school.
“You get to see them through their entire school career and see their progress and see them reach their goals, and I think that’s what’s amazing,” she says. “And we make the promise to our families, and it’s part of one of our requirements, that you receive an acceptance letter to a four-year university when you graduate with us. … We want all of our kids to have that option.”
The school emphasizes college readiness through its academic approach and its appearance. Each classroom will be named after a college or university, and college pennants will hang throughout the school. Students will also have opportunities to visit college campuses and hear presentations from college graduates about their experiences and careers.
“We want that to be a very real part of all of our kids’ environments,” MacArthur says. “ … It’s not just our goal for our kids to get to college; it’s to graduate from college.”
The arts are a major focus as well. In a math class, students may sing songs to remember a concept or they could paint a mural and then write about it in English class. Students will also work with “master artists” from the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa.
Lighthouse’s charter status allows the school to offer a longer school day (8 a.m.-4 p.m.) and additional days of instruction (190 days for students). As a result, MacArthur says, the school promises that no matter at what level a student enters, whether two grades ahead or two grades behind, he or she will show a year and a half’s worth of growth in reading and math.
As Lighthouse Academy solidifies its place in the community, MacArthur says she looks forward to working with other schools, charter and otherwise, to offer the best education possible for Tulsa students.
“The biggest goal overarching is to prove what’s possible in public education,” she says. “I think our kids are destined to succeed, and … as educators, we just have to give them the opportunity in order to show what they’re capable of.”