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Tulsa Public Schools interim superintendent talks one-on-one with 2 News

Dr. Ebony Johnson
Posted at 5:02 PM, Sep 19, 2023

TULSA, Okla. — As the Tulsa Public School District works to improve outcomes for students, 2 News spoke one-on-one with interim superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson.

“Tulsa Public Schools gave a lot to me, and I would not be sitting in this seat without Tulsa Public Schools,” said Dr. Johnson. “So, it’s befitting and right that I would be giving back to a school system that gave so much to me.”

A product of Tulsa Public Schools with 24 years of work in the district, Dr. Johnson says it’s both a personal and professional task at hand. She’s leading the largest district in the state as they work to comply with three requirements set in place by the State Board of Education.

“Prior to these three areas that were identified by the state, Tulsa Public Schools was already planning and poised to address those areas,” said Dr. Johnson.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters says the district needs to see substantial improvements in reading scores.

“We’ve been able to start a series of supports for our teachers on the science of reading,” said Dr. Johnson. “We do know it’s critically important that we double down on that professional development, and we’ve done that since then.”

She says they’re also asking for parent's support at home to help improve these scores.
“It’s going to be critically important though that we not only look at the current ways in which our students are getting the academic access and information they’re receiving right now, but that we loop our families in as well on ways they can support us even more that home,” said Dr. Johnson.

The district also has an assessment culture. Dr. Johnson says they have continuous improvement cycles where principals meet on a consistent basis with their instructional leadership directors and instructional superintendents who provide information to Dr. Johnson so that she can see how students across the district are performing on a consistent basis.

As far as specific metrics the state board wants to see, Dr. Johnson says those haven’t been laid out just yet.

“I anticipate through more conversations and understanding of what we are to do by the end of the year, we’ll know more,” said Dr. Johnson.

The State Board of Education also wants to see enhanced financial management and internal controls. It stems from a wire fraud case against former TPS administrator Devin Fletcher who’s accused of embezzling upwards of $600,000 from the district and the Foundation for Tulsa Schools.

“We’re paying a lot more attention to how we support our team members and understanding our systems,” said Dr. Johnson. “How we raise any concerns about anything that doesn’t seem right. How we’re ensuring that professional development and training is provided to all of our team members around ways in which we do business in our district, and we know all of those things will support us with our internal controls.”

The last requirement is for TPS to address failing schools and get them off the “F” list.

“Some of our students need even more time to focus on intentional skills that they actually have been lacking so we’re just monitoring that our students get the number of minutes and dosage that they need throughout the day so that we close those achievement gaps,” said Dr. Johnson.

During the last State Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Walters indicated TPS needed to see improvement in 2 to 3 months.

“2-3 months was stated, but 2-3 months was not actually a part of the resolution that was approved by the board,” said Dr. Johnson. “It’s important that every single day that we’re doing this work that we are looking at data on a weekly and monthly basis.”

Dr. Johnson said the state superintendent visited TPS a few weeks ago to lay out expectations and offer support. She’ll meet with the state’s Chief Academic Officer next week — to lay out what the next few months will look like.

“The three areas that have been earmarked and voted by the state department, we are in agreement that it’s critically important that all three of those areas are important to us and that we do better in the future,” said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson say she would be interested in being permanent superintendent. TPS School Board President Stacey Woolley said they’ll have a special meeting soon for the board to talk through the superintendent search process which she anticipates will be nationwide.

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