Tulsa, Oklahoma’s superintendent announced her resignation on Tuesday, making a last-ditch effort to prevent the state takeover of the state’s biggest school system.
Tulsa’s schools and its superintendent, Deborah A. Gist, had been a target of Ryan Walters, the polarising schools chief of Oklahoma, renowned for his conservative beliefs and outspoken outbursts.
Mr. Walters, a Republican who entered office in January, has clashed with the Tulsa school district over cultural and religious problems and has raised a number of grievances, such as poor test results and financial mismanagement.
Dr. Gist’s leadership was called into question, and the board member threatened to select a new superintendent and potentially revoke the district’s accreditation, which would result in the closure of all schools. Nearly 34,000 pupils attend Tulsa public schools, the vast majority of whom are Hispanic or Black and come from low-income families.
Dr. Gist addressed a letter to the Tulsa community on Wednesday warning that the district’s best opportunity to avoid a takeover was for him to resign before Thursday’s meeting of the State Board of Education to decide Tulsa’s destiny.
Dr. Gist, who has served as Tulsa’s superintendent since 2015, said in the letter that the school board will likely consider Ebony Johnson, a senior district administrator, for the position of temporary superintendent on Wednesday night.
When asked how Dr. Gist’s departure from the state’s plans may be affected, Mr. Walters’ spokesperson Matt Langston said, “Everything is still on the table.”
Takeovers by the state, like the one that occurred in Houston this year, disproportionately affect districts serving low-income and minority kids, despite evidence suggesting that, on average, such actions have no positive effect on academic performance.
Tulsa’s public schools are among the worst in Oklahoma, and the coronavirus epidemic likely didn’t help matters by delaying the start of the school year. Only 8% of students in 2022 could be considered skilled in mathematics, while only 11% could say the same about English language arts. The outcomes were comparable to those of Oklahoma City, another major metropolitan area with significant poverty rates.
However, Tulsa’s unique history and politics have made it stand out even in Oklahoma, where discussions of race are frowned upon.
Teacher training on implicit bias, according to state authorities, was the first cause of a reduction in Tulsa’s accreditation last year.
Native Americans were the earliest settlers in this community, but in 1921, a false claim that a Black man had raped a white lady sparked one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history. Tulsa’s rich Greenwood neighbourhood, also known as Black Wall Street, was demolished by white rioters, and as many as 300 people were killed in the ensuing conflict.
This summer, Mr. Walters, an opponent of critical race theory, was criticised for responding to a question on the Tulsa Race Massacre by suggesting that individuals should not be labelled as racist based on their skin colour. He clarified that his first statement had been misconstrued and he now believed that students should be required to learn about the atrocity.
Dr. Gist wrote on Tuesday that a state takeover would further damage Tulsa’s reputation by “depriving Tulsans of their collective voice over their schools.”
Mr. Walters has lately been working on a case involving the misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a former school official in Tulsa.