Friday, March 04, 2005

The End Justifies the Means

Its always easiest to look back and play armchair quarterback at just about any situation. Remember, hindsight is always 20/20. Permit me to look back a bit, with a tear of nostalgia in my eye to 1973 in Tulsa Oklahoma.

Now 1973 was the year that the Federal courts mandated integration upon Tulsa Public Schools. To avoid a forced situation, TPS came up with a voluntary integration plan which centered around turning Booker T. Washington H.S. (traditionally an all black school) into a magnet school. By the way, initially this move garnered tremendous negative support from the black and n0n-black communities in Tulsa. Now, this sound harmless enough. But let's look into it a little deeper.

Integration meant that buses of black students would be transported across the district. It also meant buses of white students would be transported across the district. Oops! There goes the idea of the neighborhood school. Interestingly, the white students on the buses generally were glad to be headed to BTW, but the black students were resentful to be on their buses. Why? BTW was the magnet school that had teachers and courses that the white students wanted. The black kids were being transported to non-magnet schools, that were traditional rivals and they were assured of being in a distinct minority. Those buses were a hard pill for all Tulsans to swallow.

The word was out. BTW would have the very best teachers and the very best staff. It would offer courses that could not be taken elsewhere. It was to go from 99.9% black to 50% in one year and then maintain that percentage. It was a brilliant plan. It's outcome was assured from the outset and it has remained a bright and shining star in Tulsa's education mosaic.

From where did the staff, the teachers and the white students come? Well, let me speak to what I know.

At this time, I was attending Nathan Hale High School. It was an incredible experience. We had the best principal, the best teachers, the best students and the best football team in Oklahoma (State Champs in 1973). We were also lilly white. But so to were some other High Schools like Memorial and Edison. We had public speakers, we had actors and actresses, we had brains, we had nerds, we had jocks, we had pretty cheerleaders, we had the best assemblies, we had, we had........

1972-73 was my junior year of High School. It was the pinnacle year. School spirit was never higher. Things were fantastic. Most of my classmates were going or planning to go on to the college of their choosing. But as students we were not aware of what was going on in the Courts and at the Education Service Center. We had no idea what they were cooking up.

Then came 1973-1974. My senior year. It was supposed to be the pinnacle year. It ended up being a postscript. What happened to our principal, H.J. Green? He was a man who we all loved, admired and respected. He was our leader. He had our best interest in mind. Well he was "asked" to go to BTW. In his place we got Granville Smith (who?), the former principal of BTW. What happened to Mrs. Kimrey and other of our beloved teachers? They too were "asked" to go to BTW.

Racial tensions were high, but the Seniors tried to make the best of it. We elected Eric Godwin, one of only a handful of black male students, as Senior Class President. He was a very likeable guy and I remember sitting between him and Billy Padek at commencement at the Mabee Center. Don Woods was the speaker and we were under a tornado watch! There was a riot in the lunchroom that year that never got any publicity. That's about as bad as things got.

Well, really from that point on, Nathan Hale and the other High Schools in Tulsa have declined. By the way, as if to emphasize the point, we lost the 1974 state football championship to... you guessed it, BTW! It was the first High School football game televised in Tulsa.

At a reunion years later, I asked the quarterback, Steve Miller, about what happened. I had always heard that the team had partied too hard the night before, and that was confirmed. No excuses really! I played several years with these guys and they were winners. My class was the first to win the All City in Junior High for all three years, then an off year as Sophomores, a State Championship as Juniors and State Runner-Up as Seniors. Not bad guys!

The real success of BTW came at the cost of the other High Schools, especially Nathan Hale. That has had far reaching consequences for the district to this day. Now, a free education is offered by all schools in the district. But the only appropriate education is offered at BTW and the other magnet schools. Since this reform is so effective, what was it not implemented into the entire district? For a variety of reasons. But Dr. Sawyer has begun expanding it. The problem is that in the meantime everyone who was interested left town and moved to the suburbs.

The word got out. If you have kids and you want to see them educated you can't get that in Tulsa. You will have to move to places like Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow, Owasso, and Claremore.

Tulsa is left with aging public school buildings, with changing demographics and an administration bankrupt of meaningful ideas and incapable of reforming itself.

Sorry, I will try not to keep looking back, because we can do nothing to change it. We must look forward to improve our situation.


Anonymous said...

Your principal, H. J. Green, came to California in the 1990's and was a principal at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and then Superintendent of High Schools for Long Beach Unified School District until 2000 or so. He remained in California for a few years doing consulting work, then returned to Tulsa two years ago. Unfortunately, his wife, Nancy, just died of cancer a few weeks ago. I believe she is the one who wanted very much to return to Tulsa.

Anonymous said...

Nathan Hale lives on....

Search for
on the web.

Nathan Hale is the victim of a Perfect Storm that has loomed over it for 35 years. Edison, Memorial, Mason, Rogers, Central, McClain suffered too but did not give up their principal and 6 hand selected teachers.

The Voluntary Desegregation Program in 1973 by Tulsa Public Schools and BTW may have hurt other public schools, but the program really helped Metro Christian, Victory Christian, Lincoln Christian, Bishop Kelly, Holland Hall, Cascia Hall, Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow, Owasso, Glenn Pool, Berry Hill, Sapulpa, Bixby, Coweta...