TSAS Finds Success!

TulsaSchool of Arts and Sciences finds success as a Tulsa charter high school.

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.

“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.

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.

Smith said there is a culture of respect at the school between student, teacher and parent.  “Parents are welcome at our school. They can come in any time and see what is happening and talk to teachers. And, we would not have lunch if it wasn’t for our parents.”

Lunchtime at TSAS is a lively hour. A parent group, fondly known as the “Lunch Bunch,” brings in a hot lunch option each day for the students to purchase. The parents also run a food kiosk stocked with fruit, bagels, snack food and drinks.

During the lunch hour students sit crossed-legged in groups on the floor talking and eating or roam outside to a grassy area for some fresh air or a game of Hacky Sack.   Several student musicians jam in the jazz band room, while a group of freshmen play video games in their World Civilization’s classroom. Teachers and students enjoy the downtime together.

“There is no cafeteria at TSAS, so students eat in the classrooms, hallways, outside, or any other place they can find to gather. Many of the teachers eat in their classrooms alongside the students which helps create a very relaxed friendship-like vibe between the teachers and students and makes it easy for students to get help from teachers during lunch,” Butler said.

Oklahoma charter schools receive state funding through the State Aid funding formula, set by law. Up to five percent of a charter school’s funding allocation is retained by its sponsor for administrative costs. TSAS operates at about 30 percent less per student than a TPS student, Doss said.

“Our biggest expenses are rent and teachers’ salaries. TSAS has a foundation that raised $50,000 last year. Our parents group donated $15,000 to the school from their Lunch Bunch earnings. We also have received grants from local people and companies,” Doss said.

For a list of Oklahoma Charter Schools, you can visit the Oklahoma State Department of Education website.

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