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KIPP Tulsa University Prep is Tulsa's first high school on a college campus

Tulsa has its first high school located on a college campus as KIPP Tulsa University Prep High School’s inaugural class of freshmen started classes Monday at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.

Ahmad Roper’s mother was literally in tears when she discovered and enrolled her son in the new expansion of KIPP Tulsa, which was founded in 2005 for grades 5-8.

“She got real emotional because this is something new and big and better that I could come up from,” said Roper, who attended Monroe Demonstration School and Sand Springs’ Clyde Boyd Middle School previously. “This is just a better option than an average high school.”

Nearly half of KIPP Tulsa University Prep’s first students are like Roper, all-new to the KIPP model, which focuses on getting kids prepared for college no matter how far behind they may be when they arrive on KIPP’s doorstep.

School leader Chris Mahnken spent four years preparing for KIPP Tulsa University Prep’s opening. The curriculum has been carefully designed so students and teachers can focus only on the skills needed for college admission and college-level coursework.

“We are the only AP for All high school in Tulsa serving a majority disadvantaged population,” Mahnken said, referring to an initiative to give more students access to rigorous, college-level Advanced Placement classes and college credit-bearing end-of-course exams. “Every single lesson has been backward planned from AP standards and skills required for the ACT (college entrance exam).”

That’s true even for classes such as Isaiah Weaver’s Theater I.

“Behind a mask of theater, we will be focusing on reading and writing skills like characterization and themes,” said Weaver, who is beginning his ninth year of teaching, having worked previously at Riverfield Country Day School and Memorial High School. “I’m excited to be here, because to be a part of the KIPP family allows us to give our students successful and choice-filled lives.”

When the Tulsa school board approved KIPP Tulsa’s expansion into high school, KIPP leaders were working on a deal to lease space for the new high school at Edurec Youth and Family Fun Center in north Tulsa.

But Andrew McRae, executive director at KIPP Tulsa, said the two parties simply “could not come to a mutually agreeable deal.” That’s when the idea to found the high school on the OSU-Tulsa campus came up.

“President (Howard) Barnett was open to the idea of us starting here. I think there is potential for us to stay here, but OSU-Tulsa wants to take this one year at a time. There are some Tulsa Public Schools facilities that we think would also be ideal for us,” McRae said.

Ron Bussert, OSU-Tulsa vice president for administration and finance, told the Tulsa World on Monday, “We were fortunate to have the facilities that KIPP needed available at the right time and welcome the opportunity to support an organization doing important work for education in our community.”

Of landing at OSU-Tulsa, Mahnken said, “We are extremely humbled and blessed to be here and will be taking full advantage of introducing our students to this kind of learning environment.”

KIPP Tulsa University Prep recruited a mix of local and out-of-state teachers, including English teacher Katy Mullins, a University of Pittsburgh graduate.

Mullins came to Tulsa two years ago with the AmeriCorps service program City Year, which serves at-risk youths in Tulsa Public Schools. She said the KIPP high school’s finding its first home in eight classrooms in OSU-Tulsa’s North Hall is fortuitous.

“This gives them a sense of ‘This is it. This is the place.’ I think it’s very empowering to them to be integrated with the college,” said Mullins. “The coursework will be very rigorous, very challenging, but overwhelmingly, they’re telling us they’re up for it; they’re ready to get started.”

Amya Jamison, 14, attended middle school at KIPP Tulsa.

Although she had her pick of the city’s best public and private high schools, she chose to stay with the KIPP model — and said it had nothing to do with the chance to go to high school on a college campus.

“Honestly, location doesn’t matter as much as what they’re trying to teach you,” she said.

The students met all last week to get to know each other, to make the first of many planned college visits when they traveled to the University of Arkansas, and, most importantly, to take a practice ACT exam for the first time.

“It shows us what we’re going to need to know,” said Roper, 14.

KIPP Tulsa University Prep will add one grade level during each of the next three years, with plans for up to 500 students when fully enrolled. The high school is still enrolling new students for 2018-19, with 24 seats remaining in its freshman class of up to 125.

Cornett, Stitt add $3.6 million in campaign contributions since primary

Correction: This story originally misidentified donor and activist Sue Ann Arnall. The story has been corrected.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt combined to add $3.6 million to their campaign coffers between June 12 and Aug. 13, according to reports filed Monday with the Oklahoma State Ethics Commission.

According to the reports, Cornett took in $1.3 million while Stitt received $1.2 million in contributions and added $1.1 million from his own pocket, for a total of $2.3 million.

A separate filing indicates Stitt put an additional $500,000 into the campaign on Aug. 15.

For the campaign, Stitt reports revenue of $6.4 million, half of it from his own resources. Cornett has received $3.2 million, meaning the two have almost identical contributions heading toward the Aug. 28 runoff.

Also Monday, the independent expenditure group Oklahoma Values reported that it has spent $425,000 on advertising attacking Stitt.

Cornett and Stitt are locked in a frantic battle leading to the Aug. 28 runoff election.

By law, independent expenditure groups are prohibited from coordinating with candidate campaigns. In practice, it is not unusual for such groups to play the heavy in political campaigns by concentrating on attack ads. Oklahoma Values does not have to disclose donors for the period June 1-Sept. 30 until Oct. 31.

Previous reports show that Oklahoma Values had spent about $380,000 supporting Cornett since last summer. The PAC was started with $200,000 from Sue Ann Arnall, who is known as an activist on several fronts and the former wife of oilman Harold Hamm. Other known donors are primarily from Oklahoma City, although Tulsa businessman Burt Holmes contributed $10,000 earlier this year.

Cornett’s campaign said the $1.3 million was the most ever for a runoff campaign in Oklahoma, although it is worth noting that until 2012 the period between primary and runoff elections was much shorter than it is now.

“Fundraising is a key component for running a strong campaign, and we are in great position to win,” Cornett said in a statement. “We are proud of our supporters at every level, whether they are volunteers, interns, contributors or simply showing their neighbors they support us with a yard sign.”

Cornett’s $1.3 million does not include an additional $81,000 contributed since Aug. 13 and reported separately as required by the Ethics Commission in the two weeks prior to an election.

Similarly, Stitt’s total does not include $69,800 in contributions since Aug. 13.

Signature count comes up short for recreational marijuana petition, secretary of state says

A constitutional question seeking to legalize recreational marijuana fell more than 20,000 signatures shy of the number needed to put it on a ballot — the second of two recent marijuana-related petition efforts to fail.

The Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday announced it counted 102,814 signatures for proposed State Question 797, which would have given voters the opportunity to decide whether to make recreational marijuana legal in Oklahoma’s constitution. Green the Vote’s initiative required 123,725 signatures, 15 percent of the total number of ballots cast in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

“It’s a bummer, obviously a disappointment,” said Joshua Lewelling, co-founder and board member of Green the Vote. “We were expecting a little more. I really thought we’d have around 115,000 to 120,000 or so.”

More than 100 signature sheets weren’t included in the count for various problems, such as missing information, wrong-size paper or incorrect petition cover sheets, according to a report from Secretary of State James Williamson.

About 2,600 signatures were discounted because of those problems.

Lewelling attributed the petition’s demise to Oklahoma’s restrictive requirements.

“The guidelines are very strict,” Lewelling said. “The timeline is only 90 days. Being an all-volunteer, grass-roots movement is very difficult.”

A petition proposing State Question 796 to place legal medical marijuana in the state constitution also came up well short of the necessary signatures, garnering 95,176 signatures after the tally was finalized Friday.

By seeking constitutional amendments, Green The Vote hoped to pass laws the Legislature couldn’t touch.

As for Green The Vote’s future, Lewelling expects a new board to be selected in the next week or so that will help shape and guide what comes next. He helped found the group in 2015 and said he is “satisfied personally” because his main focus — passing medical marijuana into law — came to fruition with State Question 788.

“The board that’s in place has been in place quite awhile,” Lewelling said. “It’s time for new blood and new ideas and new faces.”

Lee School renamed Council Oak Elementary School just in time for start of semester

Three-hundred seventy-two days after Tulsa Public Schools began evaluating its school names in the wake of the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, the district no longer has a school named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Tulsa school board approved renaming the 100-year-old elementary school Council Oak Elementary School on Monday night.

Six members of the seven-member board voted for the name change. One, Gary Percefull, the board member who represents the school, said “present” when it was his time to vote.

The name change comes just two days before the start of the new school year and just before the school’s centennial celebration. The school board had renamed the former Robert E. Lee Elementary School simply "Lee School" in May.

The “Council Oak” name honors the still-standing tree at the nearby meeting place where the Creek Nation council first met in 1836 after being forcibly resettled in Oklahoma.

The renaming process was fraught with conflict, filled with stops and starts and cries of discrimination, and helped the school district acknowledge institutional racism. Its conclusion makes Tulsa another city that has removed a statue and renamed a school that honored a Confederate figure.

“In the end, Tulsa’s own history precludes the solution of including Lee,” said Suzanne Schreiber, school board president. “Being home to one of the largest race riots and massacres, a city that was officially segregated and is now segregated by almost every outcome or measure of success, leaving this vestige (in place) wastes our chance to extend our hand and do better and overtly recognize our history.”

She continued, “This notion of making something right for generations of Tulsans of color was better said by Mayor Mitch Landrieu when he talked about removing Confederate statues from New Orleans. He said, ‘This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.’ ”

The struggle to rename a school that honors a racist past isn’t unique to Tulsa, as Schreiber acknowledged. School districts and higher education institutions across the country have also grappled with how to confront their pasts and with considering whom they honor.

For example, the Fairfax County school board in Virginia changed the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School — also named for a Confederate Army general — to Justice High School. Previous efforts to change the name to some variation of Stuart or for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black member of the high court, failed.

In Connecticut, Yale University struggled for years with whether it should rename Calhoun College, named for former U.S. Vice President John Calhoun, a defender of slavery and proponent of states’ rights. After years of protest, Yale eventually settled in 2017 on renaming the undergraduate residential college in honor of Grace Murray Hopper, a trailblazing computer scientist who served as a rear admiral in the Navy.

Scott Pitcock, an opponent of the name Lee, said the name Council Oak represents Tulsa and its history.

Not every speaker spoke in support of the Council Oak name. Many supporters of keeping the school named Lee honed in on the fact that some members of the Creek Nation owned slaves. They said naming a school after the Creeks’ early-day meeting place was contradictory to the rationale that caused the district to take the Robert E. Lee name off the school in the first place.

“To state the obvious, the Creek Council Oak tree has no meaning absent the Creek Nation,” said Mark Sanders, who had advocated for the name Lee Reconciliation School. “So the Council Oak is necessarily honoring that nation, but is the Creek Nation worthy of that particular honor in the context of this year-long school-naming debate, which has always been about the legacy of slavery and the Confederacy.

“The Creek Nation was a slaveholding tribe. Upon their arrival here, the Creeks re-established their national governments and re-enacted slave codes,” Sanders told the school board. “Ironically, you leave no rhetorical daylight between you and proponents of retaining the name Lee.”

There are some differences between many Native slaveholders and white slaveholders, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society and other historians. Unlike those owned by whites, Creek slaves were often allowed to read and write and were rarely separated from their families. One historian, Robbie Ethridge, in his book “Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World,” wrote that Creek slaves were treated more like tenant farmers than slaves. However, the Oklahoma Historical Society noted that slaves of both Creeks and whites were exploited for their masters’ profit.

The descendants of Creek Freedmen — former slaves of the Creeks — have recently filed a class-action lawsuit seeking to have the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s constitution declared void and in violation of the Treaty of 1866, which guaranteed tribal citizenship to the tribe’s freed slaves and their descendants, as well as those of black Creeks.

Those seeking to retain the name Lee have said it has never been about the name Robert E. Lee and is more about the name Lee School. They have said that if the school’s name was changed, the shared academic heritage of multiple generations would be lost. Some disputed that, including a member of the second Lee renaming committee, Jason Parker.

“The things that have been said tonight, I respect all of them. As someone who may be considered, I guess, a millennial, the stings of racism and hatred and bigotry don’t affect me nearly as much as they did my parents, and my parents’ parents, who were raised in Jackson, Mississippi,” said Parker. “Nevertheless, those things are very much real. Those are things that, as an African-American, as a minority today, I have been taught to pay no attention to.

“I want to say that no matter the measure of a man, no matter the measure of an organization, no matter the measure of a tribe, we are all fallible. … There’s no such thing as a perfect name. … I think we can all agree objectively that the very name ‘Lee’ brings forth connotations of hatred and bigotry and divisiveness,” said Parker. “Whatever the name may be, … the memories created by the school are nonetheless the same. If any of us were to change our name tonight, we would not cease to be who we are to our family and our loved ones.”

The name change took effect immediately after the meeting.

When asked by the World what he meant by voting “present,” Percefull said, “I’m here. What does present generally mean?” The World asked: “Why didn’t you vote yes or no” on the school name question?

Percefull said, “I voted present.”