By EMILY RAMSEY
OVERSEEING ADVANCEMENT: Tulsa Public Schools is halfway through its first school year under the Project Schoolhouse plan. “We believe that Project Schoolhouse was the right thing to do,” says Superintendent Keith Ballard. “So far, it has been a huge success.”
Emily Ramsey for GTR Newspapers
City officials and Tulsa Public School administrators anticipate exciting changes and improvements in 2012.
Tulsa’s downtown continues to grow with increasing business and residential development.
By the fall of 2012, the Brady District will have a 104-room Marriott hotel with 11,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space.
Tulsa’s former City Hall at 4th Street and Frisco Avenue (near the Convention Center) is being converted to a 190-room Aloft Hotel. Construction should be completed in late summer 2012.
The Metro at Brady Arts District is set to open this month and will offer one-and two-bedroom apartments. Construction has begun on converting the old building, located at 515 South Denver, into loft apartments.
Two new grocery stores are also coming to downtown.
“The Mayor’s priority has always been to create jobs and increase economic development,” says Chief of Staff Jarred Brejcha. “The development downtown is attracting a younger work force, and, with a growing downtown population, we have many businesses coming in to serve that community.”
Cherry Street has been abuzz with new eateries, including Mi Cocina (see page 28 in this issue) and locally-owned Smoke Woodfire Grill and Andolini’s Pizzeria. La Madeleine Country French Cafe is scheduled to open in March.
Tulsa Public Schools is about to finish its first semester after instituting Project Schoolhouse. The Project closed 14 elementary and middle schools at the end of the 2010-11 school year.
“It was long overdue that we took a look at our school facilities,” says Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard. “From now on it will be an annual practice to look at facilities to make sure we are serving students in the best way.”
Through Project Schoolhouse, sixth graders were moved to elementary schools; middle schools, renamed Junior Highs, now house only seventh and eighth graders.
“The sooner students identify with their high school, the better off they will be,” says Ballard, who adds, “Therefore, we are making an intentional movement for students to identify with their high school by placing many of the junior highs on the same property as their high schools and having the junior and high schools share programs, such as foreign language, which bring younger students into the high school.
“We believe that Project Schoolhouse was the right thing to do,” he says. “It was a very emotional issue for the community, but I believe that this plan is in the best interest of our students.”
Ballard looks forward to continued improvements in the district’s language immersion and magnet schools.
Tulsa’s magnet schools include programs in engineering, fine arts, restaurant and health management, and broadcasting and digital media.
“It’s important that our magnet schools are relevant for our students,” Ballard says. “87 percent of our students come from economically disadvantaged areas. They need strong, compelling reasons to go to school.”
Will Rogers College High School is in its first year as a magnet school with an early college program.
Ballard considers this program to be one of the most important changes to come from Project Schoolhouse. It encourages students to be college ready by tenth grade.
Soon, administrators hope to have a Tulsa Community College campus on the Will Rogers site so that eleventh graders can enroll in college classes and earn college credits.
Tulsa Public Schools is also looking at ways to include the University of Tulsa in the program.
“Project Schoolhouse began as a way to cut back on expenses and save money,” Ballard says. “We could have adopted a plan that would have saved us more money, but, instead, we chose the plan that is the best for our students.”
Tulsans have seen many road construction projects completed in 2011 through the Fix Our Streets plan, passed in 2008.
“We are grateful that taxpayers voted for the Fix Our Streets package and made that investment in our city,” Brejcha says. “The improved roads have improved our community and the city as a whole.”
One future project, set to begin in January, will widen 61st Street from Riverside Drive to Rockford Avenue to five lanes and will add a new sewer line.
The city has also addressed its spending practices.
After hiring a consulting firm to review city services, the city formed the Management Review Office in early 2011 to implement more efficient practices.
Over the next five years, the city projects to save over $34 million by selling underused vehicles, restructuring departments and eliminating vacant positions.
“The money that has already been saved has gone toward turning on streetlights at night to increase resident safety and to city departments in need of funds after recent budget cuts,” Brejcha says.