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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 Published: December 2, 2012
/articleid/3734143/1/pictures/1898290">Photo - Sherry Kishore, principal of Emerson School
Sherry Kishore, principal of Emerson School

“I chose to teach at Emerson,” Barnett said. “I'm passionate about that program because I, too, was one of these teen moms at one time.”

Barnett had a child when she was 17.

She lived at home with her family, who supported her and pushed her to finish high school and move on to college.

“School was not an option for me,” she said. “It had to be done. My students, they don't have that push. School can be an option. They don't have that family a lot of the time.”

Barnett said she would like to see a different formula used for alterative schools like Emerson.

Four of the 10 schools that received F scores are alternative schools — Emerson and three in Tulsa.

Students can excel at an alternative school, even if the learning environment and their personal challenges are unique, Barnett said.

“I don't want them to think they came from an F school — because they didn't,” Barnett said. “They were a part of something greater. They were a part of something better than an F.”

The formula used to calculate grades takes into account how many students graduate within four years and within five years.

For many Emerson students, graduating can take even longer, but a diploma is better than dropping out, Kishore said.

“If you've got a student who's been out of school for two years, they may take five, six years,” Kishore said. “We are educating recovered dropouts every day. While it's a wonderful thing they're back in school, the school is penalized because they won't graduate within four years.”

Also, students who come to Emerson are usually academically behind their peers. Even if they make progress, they are still behind, Kishore said. The formula doesn't account for that.

“It needs to recognize student growth from wherever they are,” Kishore said. “They're miles ahead. They just aren't at the end.”

Students working

One Emerson student walks from the south side of town every day — blocks and blocks from his home all the way to school. He struggles with his English class, and he only has one state exam left to pass before he can graduate.

He is determined, said Elizabeth Cowan, who teaches government and U.S. history.

“He wants that high school diploma,” Cowan said, “and he wants to pass that English test. There are a lot of things you can't see in that formula.”

Confidence is lacking for many students, Cowan said.

Labeling the school with an F doesn't help.

“A lot of these students have not had a lot of people who tell them, ‘You can do it,'” said Cowan, who herself dropped out of high school and then later earned her GED and graduated from college.

“That's a huge thing with all of these kids — they need to learn they can do it.”

Students end up at Emerson by choice or circumstance, but their goal is the same, Kishore said. They want to earn a high school diploma. The F doesn't change that for them or their teachers.

“The end result's the same,” Kishore said. “We're trying to get these students graduated.”


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