At least nine districts across the Tulsa area went back to school on Thursday, putting thousands of students back in class after a summer off.
In Broken Arrow Public Schools, the Freshman Academy saw a record 1,350 students — if everyone in the class of 2022 showed up. For Skiatook Public Schools, 2018 came with changes to grade configurations across the district to better organize the student body.
Students also headed back into classrooms in Bartlesville, Claremore, Collinsville, Coweta, Owasso, Sperry and Verdigris.
Broken Arrow’s freshman academy feeds one of the largest high schools in Oklahoma and just saw 20,000 square feet of expansion over the summer, something the principal thinks will help alleviate the strain of its ever-growing student body.
“They’ve cut in some hallways and just made the traffic flow better, so you could imagine for 1,300 kids that makes a huge difference,” said Beth Gilbert, the school’s principal.
“While we are so excited about a new facility and new space even for kids to get through hallways more effectively, what really makes that school what it is is the perspective of the faculty there,” said Gilbert.
She said school staff members have “a sense of urgency” because they get students for only one year and teachers move quickly to start teaching and setting expectations.
Whether the school’s continued growth is sustainable is another question.
“Right now, I feel like we’re in good shape because we’re just now going to experience the benefits of having more space,” said Gilbert. “Long-term there are so many communities in this area that are just growing by leaps and bounds. That’s always on the minds of everyone.”
About a half-hour from downtown, students at Skiatook intermediate elementary started their school year with a mix of excitement and nerves.
Fourth-grader Estella DeLong is glad to be back, she said, even though she didn’t have much chance to hang out with friends over the summer. But on the bright side, her parents got her a cell phone, and she hopes to fill it with the numbers of new friends.
While Estella claimed no nervousness on her part, language arts teacher Rachel Stockton admitted that even after five years teaching in Skiatook, she had some first-day worries.
“You usually get that nervous feeling the night before,” Stockton said, though the feeling fades fast once she starts teaching again. “My classroom is my home away from home.”
Students at Skiatook Intermediate performed well above the state averages on proficiency-testing results released this month. The state averages proficiency rates in fourth-grade English and math are 35 percent and 36 percent, respectively. For Skiatook, those numbers are 60 percent and 41 percent.
Tim Buck, Skiatook Intermediate’s principal, credits strong communication between teachers throughout grade levels, and a manageable student body, for the success.
“I don’t mean to say that bigger schools don’t know their kids, but I’m confident I know my kids, I’m confident I know my families,” he said. “I just feel like I get to know them a lot better.”
There are roughly 380 students in Buck’s school, now in its first year supporting only grades four and five. In previous years third grade was housed there as well, but has since been moved to a separate school.
City officials are exploring the possibility of operating a driverless shuttle from Gathering Place to Philbrook Museum, with a very important stop in between.
The stop would be near the intersection of 31st Street and Peoria Avenue, providing a transfer point for riders hopping off the new Bus Rapid Transit buses that are scheduled to begin service in the summer of 2019.
The driverless, or “autonomous,” electric shuttle would be the first vehicle of its kind in the state.
“A year from now, Tulsa will not only be home to the greatest city park gift in American history, but we will also be one of the first dozen cities in the nation with Bus Rapid Transit service,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “Connecting these two world-class assets presents some exciting opportunities, and we are exploring a range of options, including the potential use of autonomous vehicle shuttles.”
Planning is in the preliminary stages, officials stressed, with public safety and public input to be key considerations in whatever program is implemented — if a program is implemented at all.
“I think we need to engage the neighborhoods, the people in the area, so they are aware of this potential and get their reaction,” said Ted Rieck, general manager of Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority.
The Mayor’s Office last year initiated an Urban Mobility Innovation Team that explored, among other things, the potential impact of autonomous vehicles on the city and what Tulsa should do to prepare for the technology. The driverless shuttle idea grew out of those conversations.
Adriane Jaynes, energy programs coordinator with Indian Nations Council of Governments, said only a handful of companies, including EasyMile and Navya, make autonomous electric vehicles. A shuttle costs approximately $250,000 to $300,000, and fuel costs — to charge the vehicle’s battery — are less than $2 a day.
The city has yet to determine how many shuttles would be needed. Rieck said he expects that transportation funds from the Vision Tulsa sales tax package could be used to pay for the vehicles.
The shuttles would operate within existing car lanes, travel no faster than 20 mph and hold eight to 15 people. There would be no steering wheel, no pedals, and no driver’s seat. Instead, the vehicles rely on a combination of GPS mapping, cameras and LiDAR imaging to direct them.
“There are cameras and sensors all over the outside of this thing as well as on the inside for the safety of passengers,” Jaynes said. “It sees everything. ... They never blink. They never check for texts. They’re a computer. They are always paying attention.”
Still, the plan is to have an attendant on the shuttle for at least the first three to six months of operations to greet customers and explain how the vehicles work.
The exact route is another piece of the puzzle yet to be determined. However, officials do not expect the shuttle to run along Peoria Avenue.
Philbrook Director Scott Stulen called the autonomous shuttle “a promising option” for connecting the museum, park and BRT system.
“We hope this is just the beginning of attractive and widely used public transportation options that greatly relieve parking limitations in midtown and help us serve more people comfortably,” Stulen said.
Autonomous shuttles are being used worldwide. In the United States, they can be found in Arlington, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Arlington just completed a yearlong pilot program called Milo, which used an EasyRide shuttle to move people along trails in the city’s entertainment district.
“We were just using it to connect from remote parking lots up to the (sports) stadiums,” said Ann Foss, principal planner with the city of Arlington. “I think a little circulator loop around a series of different destinations ... is something these vehicles are well-suited for.”
The 2018 Oklahoma Changing World Prize will recognize the history-making efforts of Clara Luper and youths who staged the historic Oklahoma City sit-ins 60 years ago this month.
The Woody Guthrie Center will present the prize to the group during an Oct. 11 event at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. Luper died in 2011. She was 88.
Created in 2014, the prize honors Oklahomans who fight for social justice in the spirit of Woody Guthrie. It’s named after the song “Changing World,” in which Guthrie wrote, “Change the pen and change the ink, Change the way you talk and think. ... Change the ways of this changing world.”
Deana McCloud, executive director of the Woody Guthrie Center, said this in a news release: “The Woody Guthrie Center is incredibly proud to recognize the dignity, courage, and commitment of Clara Luper and her NAACP Youth Council with our 2018 Oklahoma Changing World Prize. These Civil Rights activists led the change that our world so desperately needed and helped make America’s promise of equality under the law a reality. As we approach the 60th anniversary of that first sit-in, we celebrate their integrity and their non-violent approach to ‘change the ways of this changing world.’ ”
Under Luper’s leadership, the group’s act of resistance in a segregated city sparked a movement that would eventually see the end of state-sanctioned segregation. Students participating in the sit-in were Marilyn Luper Hildreth, Calvin Luper, Richard Brown, Betty Germany, Portwood Williams Jr., Lynzetta Jones Carter, Gwendolyn Mukes, Linda Pogue, Ayanna Najuma, Dr. Barbara Posey Jones, Alma Faye Posey Washington, Areda Tolliver and Elmer Edwards.
Their movement began Aug. 19, 1958, when the students took a seat at the Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City and asked for a soda and hamburgers. They weren’t served by the staff; instead, they endured taunts, jeers and threats from other patrons.
They returned the next day and were again refused service, but staff relented on the third day and a large group was served that afternoon. Their work spread to different lunch counters across the city and eventually across the state.
Sit-ins had occurred in earlier years, but they would become a popular movement and a defining part of the Civil Rights Movement as sit-ins spread across the South in the 1960s.
Luper’s name was among those considered in the recent effort to rename Lee Elementary School in Tulsa.
Previous prize honorees include LaDonna Harris (2017), Samantha Elauf (2016) and Sharon and Mary Bishop-Baldwin (2015).
Table sponsorships for the event are available for $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000. A limited number of individual tickets will be available starting Sept. 4.
Call 918-574-2522 for information. Proceeds from the event will support Woody Guthrie Center education programs and local NAACP chapters.
The prize will be co-hosted by OKPOP at the Oklahoma History Center.