TSAS Finds Success!
Tulsa school of Arts and Sciences finds success as a Tulsa charter high school.
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It took one visit to Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences (TSAS) for Rachel Luther to decide TSAS was the school she wanted to attend for high school. “It was amazing. Teachers and students were hanging out and working together on classwork. It was fun. And, the class sizes were small, unlike other Tulsa high schools.”
TSAS was the brainchild of a group of Memorial High School teachers. “In 2000 they were literally sitting around a kitchen table one day discussing how a high school could be done differently. A group of parents joined in on the development of the mission, and they applied with the state to become a charter school. In 2001 we opened our doors,” said Eric Doss, TSAS director.
Now in its tenth year, TSAS remains Tulsa’s only charter school that is strictly a high school and the only Tulsa charter school sponsored through Tulsa Public Schools.
Charter schools are public, nonsectarian schools created through a contract or charter between the school and its sponsor. The Oklahoma Charter Schools Act, enacted in 1999, states the purposes for charter schools in Oklahoma are to improve student learning, increase learning opportunities for students, encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods, provide additional academic choices for parents and students, develop different forms of measuring student learning, establish new forms of accountability for schools and provide new opportunities for teachers and administrators.
Today there are 22 charter schools in Oklahoma with over 5,400 students enrolled. Tulsa has four charter schools: Deborah Brown Community School (K-5), Dove Science Academy (6-12), Discovery School of Tulsa (6-8) and TSAS.
KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory is applying to switch from a contract school to a charter school by 2013 and plans are to have TPS as its sponsor.
By law, charter schools must have a fair and open admissions process. A student’s legal residence must be within the boundaries of the school district in which the school is located. When more students apply than can be accommodated, many charters, such as TSAS, hold a lottery to select students. TSAS student body size, by charter agreement with TPS, is capped at 275 students.
“Basically, we put all the names of the kids interested in a big box and pull a name out one by one. This past year we had 110 interested freshmen and 75 spots in our freshmen class. We do have a waiting list for each class. We do not see a student’s grades, their GPA, teacher recommendations or what schools they have attended. We just have to make sure they live in the TPS school district. Today we have students from every zip code in Tulsa, and they are a representation of all Tulsa area high school students,” Doss said.
Charter schools hold the reins on their curriculum. “We create our own curriculum and strive to be creative with the type of classes we offer,” said Liesa Smith, TSAS principal. “We have offered a class in forensics, film history, the science of Harry Potter and Shakespeare.”
TSAS, which is housed in an office building near LaFortune Park, has a higher graduation requirement than TPS. A TPS student must have 23 credits to graduate while a TSAS student must have 26 credits.
“We require every student to take an art class and two years of a foreign language. We want our kids to be college ready,” Doss said.
At TSAS the school year is divided into trimesters. Students take five 70-minute classes each day. Class sizes are small with a 17:1 student to teacher ratio. The extended class period, said Smith, allows for a more in-depth look at ideas and concepts and gives teachers an opportunity to work one on one with students.
TSAS 2010 graduate, Gina Butler said, “Being close to the teachers at TSAS meant that I felt secure learning from them and I always felt like they had my best interests in mind. Especially in my upperclassman years I found myself not only learning from my teachers, but often learning with them. This allowed me to feed off their excitement about the subjects. This was a fantastic advantage and made it easier to conquer difficult subjects like AP Calculus, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Shakespeare.”
“We are a college preparatory school and we want our seniors and even our juniors to work toward going to college,” Doss said. “We use the close relationship between students and teachers to set the bar high.”
In 2010 TSAS ACT average composite score was 22.3, the highest of any TPS school.