Work to go on despite failing grade for Oklahoma City alternative school

Emerson High School in Oklahoma City is one of only 10 schools in the state to receive an F grade under the new A to F school evaluation system. One school is in Farris, and all the other schools are in Tulsa.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: December 2, 2012
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In a crumbling building north of downtown Oklahoma City, teen moms, former dropouts and kids who've been in trouble are trying to graduate from high school.

They're recovering class credits or recovering from maternity leave. They're looking for a different setting where they can be themselves. For many, Emerson High School is the last chance.

According to the new A to F evaluation system put in place by the state Education Department, this is one of the worst schools in Oklahoma.

It was one of only 10 schools in the state that received an F.

Principal Sherry Kishore was devastated, but then she refocused.

“I know what job I do,” she said. “I know what job my teachers do. I know what job my students do. That's why I'm OK.

“(The F) doesn't have anything to do with me. We're doing our job.”

Facing challenges

About 1,750 Oklahoma schools received a letter grade of A to F this fall as part of a new school evaluation system created by the Education Department. The system replaces the Academic Performance Index, which is no longer required because Oklahoma received a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind laws.

Educators and community leaders have debated the formula used to calculate the grades for months. The state Board of Education finally approved the equation in October.

Parents and the community deserve to know how schools are doing, said Anna Graven, who teaches sophomore English at Emerson. But a mathematical formula can't always capture the good teachers and students accomplish every day.

When the F came out, the Emerson staff was crushed, Graven said

“It's demoralizing. I think it's unjust,” she said.

“And I don't think that grade is a true reflection of what we have in this building.”

Emerson has its problems, said Kishore, the principal.

The school struggles with parent involvement. More than 60 percent of students don't live with their parents, Kishore said. The halls are empty on parent-teacher conference night.

The school building is falling apart, but ground was broken this fall on MAPS for Kids renovations. Emerson is the oldest building in the district. It was built in 1894.

Another problem, Kishore said, is transportation. Emerson students have to provide their own way to school, regardless of which home school they come from. For some, the challenge can be too tough; absences pile up.

The school has many strengths, like hardworking teachers, she said. The students are motivated, too.

“When they get here, they're more serious,” she said.

“They know this is one of their last opportunities.”

Also, on-site day care services help young mothers stay in school. Parenting classes help guide students who might not have appropriate examples to follow at home.

Courtney Barnett has taught freshman English at Emerson for two years.

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