Tulsa Public Schools is considering sponsorship of a national charter school management organization’s newest school.
Lighthouse Academies is seeking a charter school contract and a lease for a school facility somewhere in north Tulsa to open to as many as 280 students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade come August.
“Lighthouse has a proven program. They found Tulsa because they were looking for more communities where there was not sufficient educational choice,” said Annie Koppel Van Hanken, an executive with the George Kaiser Family Foundation who has signed on to fund the Lighthouse school.
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard has recommended that the school board approve the sponsorship deal with Lighthouse Academies at a Jan. 17 meeting. The board will also be asked to approve the conversion of KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory’s operating contract into a charter school contract at the same meeting.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools of choice that are operated by independent governing boards.
Ballard said he wholeheartedly supports the new partnership with Lighthouse, which uses an arts-infusion college preparatory curriculum.
“Arts-infusion” means that core curriculum objectives are taught with and reinforced by the visual and performing arts.
“I believe that we need to offer choices in the urban setting. Lighthouse targets low-income, traditionally low-performing areas. There are people who will be interested in this kind of charter,” Ballard said. “I am proud that our (school) board committee headed up by Ruth Ann Fate and Gary Percefull has spent countless hours working to put this charter application together and a community committee that I appointed provided input as the contract was being developed.”
The Lighthouse national nonprofit network of charter schools already operates 19 schools in five states – Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Wisconsin – plus the District of Columbia, serving a total of about 5,300 students. Its first school, Bronx Lighthouse Charter School in New York City, opened in 2004.
In addition to Oklahoma, the network is looking to expand its operations to include schools in Missouri, Michigan and Tennessee.
Mike Ronan, founder, president and CEO of Lighthouse Academies, said he sought out Tulsa because “our mission is to work in communities where there are not a number of free, public school choices for parents, particularly those who cannot afford private schools, and there is a need in Tulsa.
“(An arts-infused curriculum) is a great way to engage students in their core academics. They are learning with their hands, with their mind and with their body. Most young people like to do things rather than being passive observers of someone speaking to them,” Ronan explained.
He added, “It exposes them to works of art and music. Not just the art and music that are parts of their neighborhoods or daily lives, but all kinds. They build cultural competence that allows them to live, work and study in someone else’s world, particularly when they go off to college.”
About 90 percent of its current students have parents who never attended college, so Lighthouse uses a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade configuration even though it’s highly unusual in the urban setting.
“A big part of preparing students to be the first ones in their families to go to college is to bring them in as soon as possible and keep them and work with them and their families, both academically and socially, to get them ready to go on and be successful in college,” Ronan said. “There are only 200 students in grades 9-12 in our schools, which makes for a very small learning environment that is more conducive to success.”
The Lighthouse proposal for the north Tulsa school includes a plan to grow gradually until it reaches a full capacity of 680 students by 2020.
It also seeks a facility lease on Greeley Elementary School, 105 E. 63rd St. North, or the vacant Alcott or Cleveland facilities.
Ballard said a committee of area residents and community leaders has recommended Greeley as its first choice and he supports their recommendation.
“All in the same vicinity, we would have the Bunche Early Childhood Development Center and a choice between Gilcrease Elementary School, a continuous-learning calendar school that is on the fast track to becoming a community school and a proven charter program,” he said. “We would be meeting the needs of that area in north Tulsa in a way that they maybe have never been met before.”
Van Hanken, the local founder, said the appeal of operating a charter school includes more autonomy in hiring practices and different governance structure, but Lighthouse aims to become “just one of a portfolio of options” within the existing public school system.
“I really believe that the senior team at Tulsa Public Schools really aspires to that and is ready to achieve that. We need to lock arms and say we are going to create an excellent standard for public education in Tulsa – and Lighthouse will be a beacon of that,” she said. “Every child has the right to enter an excellent school. That’s what we’re trying to create.”
North Tulsa Lighthouse Charter School
Planned opening: Fall 2012
Location: To be determined
Number of students: 280 first year
Grades served: Pre-kindergarten-4th grade first year
Growth plan: Add one grade level each subsequent year with the intention of serving 680 total students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 by the year 2020.
Curriculum: College preparatory with arts-infusion.
Unique aspects: Extended school year (190 days) and school day (8 hours); pre-K-12 grade configuration; looping, meaning teachers remain with students for at least two years; and the SHINE character education model, which is an integral part of the program focusing on five key traits: self-discipline, humility, intelligence, nobility and excellence.
Original Print Headline: TPS may sponsor new charter school