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TPS will take on Greenwood Leadership Academy operations in '22-'23

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Railroad scenes are part of the Black Wall Street-themed decor and exhibits at Greenwood Leadership Academy in 2020. The Met Cares Foundation has operated the school at 1717 W. Seminole St. since 2017, but Tulsa Public Schools will take over operations this school year.

With classes scheduled to start in less than a month, Tulsa Public Schools will be taking over the operations of its partnership school in northwest Tulsa.

On Tuesday evening, officials with the Met Cares Foundation announced that TPS will operate Greenwood Leadership Academy, 1717 W. Seminole St., for the coming school year after the Internal Revenue Service automatically pulled the organization’s nonprofit status due to missing tax returns for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

“This change comes with a heavy heart,” Met Cares Foundation Chairman Ray Owens said in a written statement. “It is disappointing to step back this year when we can see that Greenwood Leadership Academy is making a significant, positive improvement in student achievement.

“On behalf of the Met Cares Foundation board, we offer our heartfelt apology for any confusion this change may create as the school year is quickly approaching.”

Classes start Aug. 18.

A spokeswoman for Met Cares said the organization has submitted the tardy tax returns to the IRS but did not have a timeline for when its status as a 501©(3) will be reinstated or an answer for why its 2021 tax return was not filed until mid-July.

The organization claims that two digits were transposed on the employer identification number listed on its 2019 and 2020 returns, prompting the IRS not to acknowledge their receipt.

Tulsa Public Schools Chief Innovation Officer and interim Chief Talent Officer Andrea Castaneda handles the district’s charter and partnership school agreements. When reached Tuesday night, she declined to comment on how the district found out about Met Cares Foundation’s standing with the IRS.

Castaneda said TPS has no plans to make changes to the school and has already started conversations with Greenwood Leadership Academy staff about staying on for the coming academic year.

“Greenwood Leadership Academy is a really unique, special option in our portfolio of schools,” Castaneda said. “We know that part of its special nature is the result of the hard work that the Met Cares Foundation and the community poured into its creation. We’re excited to honor and extend the work they’ve done over the upcoming school year.”

TPS approved an application in 2017 from the Met Cares Foundation to convert one of its schools into a “partnership school,” which is a hybrid between a traditional public school and a charter school.

The school has more autonomy with respect to curriculum and staffing than a traditional public school, but it still answers to the district’s Board of Education. On the flip side, the district must offer transportation and is still accountable for students’ performance.

Academy Central was selected for the partnership school in large part due to a steep enrollment decline and nearly half of the students in its attendance area transferring to other schools.

Greenwood Leadership Academy opened in fall 2017 and began sharing a building with Academy Central. The partnership school initially served only prekindergarten through first grade and completed its expansion in 2020-21 to serve students through fifth grade.

Student count data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education show that 348 students were enrolled at Greenwood Leadership Academy in 2021-22, an increase of 46 from the previous year.

The partnership between TPS and Met Cares Foundation is subject to annual approval by the school board.

Citing a desire to focus on the impending transition, both parties declined to say whether the partnership would be revisited for the 2023-24 school year should the IRS grant the Met Cares Foundation’s reinstatement application.

The 2022-23 agreement between the district and the Met Cares Foundation was originally listed on the draft agenda for the school board’s June 6 meeting but did not appear on the final agenda, prompting questions that night from Greenwood Leadership Academy’s board representative, Jennettie Marshall.

On Wednesday, Marshall said she made the inquiry that night because she thought the agreement was simply getting overlooked by mistake but never got a direct answer as to why it was pulled.

Castaneda said Wednesday that she could not answer questions at that meeting about the proposed agreement the Met Cares Foundation because it was not on the final, published agenda.

Meanwhile, Marshall said she still has some questions about the ramifications of Tuesday’s announcement and would appreciate more public conversation in order to help the community better understand what is going on.

“I support Greenwood Leadership Academy and want to see an honest discussion about what the full plans are for the school and the district, including the role each will play in continuing the education process for our young scholars at that school,” Marshall said.

“I think its success is dependent upon knowing those roles … and everything that there is to know about the situation that we can be a better service provider and partner with the school.”

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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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