A Look Into the 2021 TPS District 3 School Board Race

by Managing Editor Raynell Joseph

On February 9th, Judith Barba made history as the first, first-generation immigrant ever elected to office in Tulsa Public Schools. Across the nation, communities elect people to who they feel will make the best decisions on behalf of students attending public schools. Electing school board members that represent the community is the sspetarting point to ensuring your schools are meeting your standards and expectations. The Board of Education is responsible for making decisions ensuring that students are getting the best education that tax dollars can buy. Once elected, an effective school board member collaborates with other fellow school board members and, most importantly, the community to improve student achievement and develop policies that best serve the families of their district, ensuring equality and equity in public education. They adopt curriculums, approve budgets, hire and evaluate the superintendent. They allow themselves to be held accountable to the people. In order to make progress, ideally they are developing relationships with the families and educators in their district. They are intentional about hosting town halls and visiting schools in their district to receive input in finding out what challenges and issues are impeding their abilities to learn and teach. It is imperative that these individuals aren’t focused on pushing a political agenda, are able to think outside the box, be willing to ask the tough questions and challenge the status quo. 

Participating in local school board elections is a civic duty often overlooked. The decision of school boards impacts municipal budgets, taxes and, most importantly, the lives of our students and our local education systems. Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) has seven community members who serve on the governing body for the district’s school board. Board members serve four-year terms, and, as civic leaders, contribute hundreds of hours each year leading Tulsa Public Schools to “Destination Excellence,” according to the district’s website. More recently, school board members were responsible for making decisions under circumstances they may have never been prepared for: during a pandemic. They faced pressure from families who were anxious to have their students back in school and from families who felt in-person learning would put their children at risk. They also were up against lawmakers and a governor who criticized their decisions to implement distance learning. 

David Harris and Jennettie Marshall are running in the general election for TPS’s District 3. District 3 consists of North Tulsa schools serving predominantly Black and brown students, such as Greenwood Leadership Academy, Anderson, Burroughs, Celia Clinton, Hamilton, Hawthorne, John Hope Franklin, Unity Learning Academy, Dual Language Academy and Whitman elementary schools, Monroe Demonstration Academy, Central Middle School and McLain High School. The academic disparities along racial lines in Tulsa Public Schools are stark. Much is at stake for District 3 as North Tulsa schools have historically been underserved and have lacked equity in educational policies. Even with dedicated teachers, students in North Tulsa’s public schools are not getting the same educational opportunities as their South Tulsa counterparts. TPS’s black students are 43 percent less college-ready than their white counterparts. 

Elected in 2017, incumbent Jennettie Marshall is currently the only Black school board member. She is said to have been elected to challenge the status quo and combat structural racism in TPS. “We will no longer accept being academically disenfranchised and socially outcast,” she stated in her 2017 victory speech. Marshall announced her run for re-election in December of last year. During her time on the board, Marshall convened a North Tulsa taskforce to elevate community input in decisions regarding McLain Seventh Grade Academy. She has drawn criticism over the years due to her votes against and opposition of the state’s only public partnership school: Greenwood Leadership Academy. Over the summer, she endured what long-time education advocate Darryl Bright described as a “character assassination” when board members spoke to Marshall’s questioning of the board’s integrity and unpopularity among some constituents as reason for not  being confirmed as the board’s next vice president. Marshall defended herself in a later meeting accusing the board of espousing white rage. In October of last year, she was the only “no” vote against the renewal of Superintendent Deborah Gist’s contract, stating that under Gist “The district is losing students, losing parents and continues to be noncompliant in serving students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPS). 

Marshall’s challenger for the District 3 seat, David Harris, is the president of the Tulsa chapter of 100 Black Men, a national mentoring program seeking to enhance educational and economic opportunities for all African-Americans.  In a statement to the publication, he shared his desire to work with families, educators and community leaders to create a collaborative atmosphere amongst school and community stakeholders. Harris, a TPS parent, seeks to put an end to the districts operating in silos and stated his goal to “work towards shared decision-making,” leading to trust in the school community. Harris is the V.P. Sales and Marketing for the Pillar Group LLC, a financial firm located in the Greenwood District. He plans to work with business and community leaders to promote growth and sustainability in the district. Harris expects this will lead to the district gaining equitable access to industry-leading resources. 

Voting for District 3 will take place in the general election on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Voters can find their polling place by logging on to the OK Voter Portal. Once board members are voted in, community members can continue to hold them accountable by attending monthly board meetings. According to the TPS’ website, citizens are encouraged to address items on the agenda or issues that are not on the agenda. TPS special school board meetings are held on Mondays at 4 pm and regular school board meetings are held on Mondays at 6:30 pm.  

Photo Credits (left to right): Jennettie Marshall School Board District 3 Facebook Page, David for District 3 Facebook Page

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