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The Scoop: Applying to Tulsa’s popular magnet programs: Eisenhower International and Zarrow International

If you are raising a pre-school aged child in Tulsa, chances are you’ve heard about the language immersion programs offered at Eisenhower International and Zarrow International schools. You’ve no doubt heard plenty of rumors about how to get your kids admitted as well. Eisenhower offers Spanish or French immersion and Zarrow offers Spanish. Entry into these elementary magnet schools is highly-sought after by many parents, and for good reason.

“For six years in a row, the school [Eisenhower] won the Oklahoma Academic Achievement award,” said Stacy Strow, Eisenhower International principal. This award is given to the school with the highest achievement on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test, a standardized state test that measures how well a student is mastering the skills defined for each grade. These math and reading tests are administered in the third, fourth and fifth grades.

Each year, there are an ample number of applicants and a limited number of spots. “Most years, there are probably twice as many kids apply than we have space available,” said Larry Smith, assistant superintendent for district accountability and program management for the Tulsa Public School (TPS) district. He also added that this estimate is a minimum with variances from year to year.

With such steep competition, the buzz around town often centers on just how these public school institutions select their students. Applying to the immersion programs is a somewhat lengthy process, in comparison to other Tulsa magnet programs, and each admitted applicant is hand-selected by a committee. This committee is guided by selection criteria that are open to the committee’s interpretation. With not so cut-and-dry admittance criteria, it is not uncommon to hear rumors amongst parents on just how one gets an edge on admittance.

The year before Tara Middleton applied for her son, Isaac, to attend Eisenhower or Zarrow, she said a parent at a birthday party shared her view on how to get Isaac into one of the language immersion schools. “This one mom, who was talking about possibly applying to Eisenhower and Zarrow, said, ‘Yeah, you have to rush the principal. Go to all of the fundraisers the year before.’ I remember thinking that sounded really over the top and probably something that I would not feel comfortable doing at all.”

Missing her one opportunity to meet Eisenhower’s principal, Tara thought she had blown Isaac’s chances of acceptance. “I went to the tour at Eisenhower and Isaac’s dad went to the tour at Zarrow. I was about 10 minutes late. I thought we’re not going to get in because I didn’t get to talk to the principal or ask questions. I thought I made a horrible impression because I was late for the tour.”

After the tours, Tara and Isaac’s dad, Robert Risk, decided to go forward with the application process. To apply, parents must complete a Parent Inventory Form. Tara says that examples of questions on this form include: “How often do you take your child to the library? How often do you read to your child? How do you discipline your child? and What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses?”

Parents must also attach a Teacher Recommendation Form. This form provides a means for the preschool teacher most familiar with the child to provide feedback about the applicant as compared to other children the same age. For example, the form asks whether the child responds appropriately to directions given to a group.

“We had to give a form to Isaac’s preschool teacher at First Christian [Church Child Development Center]. She filled it out and it had to be sealed with her signature across the envelope so we couldn’t see what she had written. It had to be totally objective,” Tara explained.

After all of the forms are delivered to the Education Service Center, the applicant is scheduled to meet with a member of the Tulsa Public School’s Psychological Services Department and is evaluated during a 15-minute test, called the One Word Vocabulary Assessment. “We had to provide the letter from his current teacher, our application and [complete] the verbal assessment they do at Eisenhower. I think they had a lot of pictures…a vocabulary test,” Tara said.

Since the entire kindergarten curriculum is taught in either French or Spanish and this continues until English reading is introduced midway through the second grade, Smith says the purpose of the test is to screen for preparedness. “It’s a developmental screening. They’re just trying to access developmentally if they’re ready to go to language immersion.”

After the application process is complete, the information is reviewed by a selection committee. The size of the committee varies from year to year depending on availability of members. “Usually it is a committee of five to 10 members including both principals, district personnel and community members,” Principal Strow said.

What criteria does the committee use to evaluate applicants? Eisenhower International’s website states that “children must score at least in the 45th percentile on a One-Word Vocabulary Assessment in English.” Principal Strow explained that “a 45 percent is an average score for the age group. When using the test scores to evaluate an applicant’s acceptance, there is not an official, set score. It is a committee decision. We try to take some 90 percent, 80 percent, 70 percent, 60 percent. We want a diverse range.”

The website also says that the children must “come in equal number from the four geographical quadrants of the district.”

“We absolutely don’t want to only serve kids from only one particular part of town. We don’t even want the illusion of that. That’s why we have quadrants. And we really do need kids from every quadrant of the city to participate in these programs for them to be as good as they can be,” Smith said.
Principal Strow said that “last year, 47 percent were accepted from each quadrant that met the criteria.”

In March, the Education Service Center mails letters stating the status of the application. Tara said, “We got the rejection letter saying ‘thank you for applying.’ “It really didn’t go into detail. It didn’t give any explanation as to why they weren’t accepted. And, of course, automatically you feel pretty disappointed.
But, we lived a few blocks from the neighborhood school and I knew it was a good school.”

However, on Thursday afternoon before school started,Tara got a phone call from Zarrow saying that a spot had opened and offered it to Isaac.

“Not every student that gets accepted into the program ultimately chooses to enter the program,” Smith explained. “All of the magnet programs have a waiting list. Every single program every year has at least one or two kids that didn’t get in initially that eventually get in.”

Tara and Isaac had already had several engagements with the neighborhood school and were excited about this option as well. However, the day following the call from Zarrow, she and Isaac went on a tour at the school. “We got to see the gym and the library and meet the kindergarten teacher. Isaac said, ‘Oh, Mom, can I go to school here!’”

Reflecting back on the application process, Tara feels positive about the selection committee’s impartiality. “I think it has to be very fair because I didn’t know anybody. Obviously, I didn’t rush the principal. I didn’t even know the principal. I didn’t know any of the other parents there. I know that we were put on a waiting list. And when they called to ask us if we wanted that spot she said, ‘please let us know as soon as possible because if you don’t want this spot then we need to call the next person and school starts on Monday.’”

For parents getting ready to apply on behalf of their child, what can they do to prepare their child?
“The things that parents can do for kids before that screening would be the exact same things that would be for any school, exposure to as much language as possible—being read to, conversations, as much language as possible. That is the prep and that’s important regardless of where they’re going to school,” Smith said.

Ann Burcham, district of choice coordinator, said, “A child that is really ready for language development… That’s what they’re looking for, kids that can soak it up and be able to understand that their lessons are going to be in a different language.”

Information regarding all of Tulsa’s elementary, middle and high school magnet schools is provided in the table below. For all of these programs, the applicants must reside within TPS district boundaries.

Applications are available online at www.tulsaschools.org/schools1/transfers.shtm. Some programs have a fast-approaching January 14 application deadline.

Application Deadlines
from TPS website, www.tulsaschools.org
Complete application information is available online at www.tulsaschools.org. Applications have varying requirements, depending on the school. Applications should be turned in to the Education Service Center, 3027 S. New Haven, Tulsa.
Zarrow and Eisenhower International: K-5; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; applicant must be 5 years old by Sept. 1; students start in kindergarten and are asked for a 6-year commitment. Whole school*

Mayo Demonstration Academy: 4-year-old – 5; deadline 4 p.m. Jan. 14; traditional classes along with element of the development of a micro-society; applicant must be age 4 by Sept. 1; district-wide public lottery. Whole school* Results posted Jan. 27.
Thoreau Demonstration Academy : 6-8 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Jan. 14; traditional classes along with the element of the development of a micro-society; enrollment based on random lottery and on progressive enrollment process, meaning Eisenhower and Zarrow students may attend Thoreau provided applications are submitted on time and Thoreau is listed as a choice. Whole school* Results posted Jan. 27.
Carver Middle School: 6-8 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; academic program. Whole school* Parents are mailed letters March 5.
Wilson Middle School: 6-8 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; An academic component of the school.
Edison Middle School: 6-8 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; An academic component of the school.
Central High School: 9-12 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; interest magnet for Fine and Performing Arts; graduating students must be college and career ready.
Hale High School: 9-12 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; interest magnet for Restaurant Lodging and Health Management; graduating students must be college and career ready.
McLain High School: 9-12 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; interest magnet for Scientific and Technological Utilization; graduating students must be college and career ready.
Webster High School: 9-12 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; interest magnet for Broadcasting and Digital Media; graduating students must be college and career ready.
Booker T. Washington High School: 9-12 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; academic program, includes the International Baccalaureate Diploma program. Whole school* Acceptance letters are mailed March 5.
Edison High School: 9-12 grades; deadline 4 p.m. Feb. 4; magnet, academic component, approx. half the students are academic placement and half from the community.
*The term “whole school” indicates that there is not an attendance area for the school. Every student is considered a transfer student and had to apply to attend.
Quadrants are determined by the middle school assigned to the parent’s address. Quadrant 1 includes Gilcrease and Madison. Quadrant 2 includes Cleveland, Clinton Middle School, Hamilton and Wilson. Quadrant 3 includes Foster, Lewis and Clark and Whitney. Quadrant 4 includes Byrd, Edison Middle School and Nimitz.
Minimum requirements for acceptance are posted on the Tulsa Public Schools website, www.tulsaschools.org. On this webpage, go to the Parents menu and select Enroll or Transfer your child. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Required Transfer Documents and Information. Click the Academic Entrance Magnet School Requirements link.
Although there is not a ‘typical’ elementary-to-high school educational path, depending on your family’s goals there are some things to consider as you help your child navigate through all of the choices that the Tulsa Public School district offers. Mayo Demonstration Academy, Eisenhower International and Zarrow International elementary students have preferential acceptance status into Thoreau Demonstration Academy middle school. Carver Middle School and Wilson magnet students have preferential acceptance into Booker T. Washington high school.

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