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A Partnerships Case Study

Tulsa Transforming: How deep analysis led to on-the-ground school progress

“ERS makes a nearly impossible job accomplishable in an efficient and effective way. I especially liked the time with the team, the tools provided that we could populate, and the fact that ERS had captured so much of our work.”
Tera Carr
Principal at Hamilton Elementary, Tulsa Public Schools

Learn more about all our work in Tulsa and other district partnerships.

Graduation rates rise consecutively for 3 years getting up to 76.9%
“I have been in the district for 29 years. I am more excited about this opportunity than any before. I truly feel supported by the district and the partners. Thank you!” – Janice Thoumire, Principal at Columbus Elementary

In 2015 Superintendent Deborah Gist had just come on board and her team sought input from ERS for the district’s new five-year strategic plan. The challenges were and remain significant, given that Tulsa is a very low-funded district that faces significant obstacles recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. ERS’ work with Tulsa continues to strengthen its foundation for effective decision-making and helps to maintain coherence across the district’s strategic initiatives. The district's progress demonstrates how ongoing strategic investment leads to sustainable progress.

The Challenge

Tulsa Public Schools faced a budget crunch, lagging student achievement, and a struggle to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. To make progress, the new superintendent needed make sure the district was making the most of every dollar they had.

The resulting ERS analysis provided the foundation for setting ambitious but achievable priorities aligned to Superintendent Gist's vision. Those priorities target redesigning what teaching and learning look like for both adults and children, and improving teacher capacity to deliver college- and career-ready standards-aligned instruction. To add to the challenge, the district had to address those priorities at no additional cost and ensure that all of the efforts complemented each other instead of clashing. This transparent effort to improve resource use has set the stage for efforts to raise additional dollars as the community has increased confidence in the district’s use of resources and understanding of what new dollars could do. 

How is ERS supporting transformation in Tulsa?

ERS’ support began in 2015 with conducting a Strategic Resource Map while simultaneously developing a new teacher compensation model and talent management strategy. Since that first year, ERS continues to work closely with the district and several cohorts of schools to implement Strategic School Designs and to create strong, coherent, systemwide conditions to enable transformation. Highlights of the work include:

Strategic Resource Map

The ERS Strategic Resource Map detailed TPS’ use of people, time, and money to identify how the district could use its resources more strategically and equitably to improve student achievement. This analysis led to building a coherent strategy for school and system improvement focused on five key priorities: Teacher leader pathways, school performance framework, restorative practices, quality instructional resources and assessments, and redesign of secondary schools. 

Strategic School Design

Collaborating with Leading Educators, ERS supported a subset of elementary schools to develop teacher-led, content-focused cycles of professional learning as a lever to improve instructional practice and student outcomes. ERS’ support involved working directly with school leaders to articulate a three-pronged theory of action:

  1. To focus on professional learning in their schools
  2. To organize systems and structures in service of that theory of action
  3. To identify the indicators to measure success 

ERS’ additional role was to knit together other collaborating technical support providers as part of the district strategy, schedule, and staffing plan. ERS worked to ensure all the efforts within schools aligned with TPS priorities and resource decisions. 

Coherence of Transformation Efforts

ERS ensured coherence for TPS’ effort to implement and support strategic school design by addressing several fundamental system conditions to enable the efforts of each school. This required:

  • Cutting non-strategic central office spending areas and identifying others for higher investment;
  • Using available data to identify which principals need the most support for retention decisions, hiring, or growth;
  • Identifying new areas for autonomous decision-making for schools;
  • Using data to facilitate productive conversations between central office staff and principals;
  • Using lessons from direct school support to identify system-level policies and processes that need to be evolved to better support school redesign efforts.

Key Outcomes

  • 2017 was the third year in row that graduation rates increased, bringing them up to 77%.
  • District planning process is coherant and prioritizes short- and long-term improvements and systematic learning through piloting.
  • ERS sessions with school cohorts were engaging and effective:
    • Ten of the schools identified cost-neutral, creative uses of resources to ensure at least 90 minutes/week are available for content-focused teams working with Empower teacher leaders, and 8 out of 10 are prepared to repurpose existing team lead stipends to fund higher pay for content-focused teacher leader roles.
    • Three of schools have identified cost-neutral, creative uses of resources to ensure sufficient release time is built into the day for the observation and debrief cycles required by CT3’s Real Time Teacher Coaching model.
    • Three of the schools participated in formal progress checks, including the triangulation of implementation data, teacher perception data, and early indicators of effectiveness, to identify action steps aimed at improving specific dimensions of implementation.
“Time in the team, the tools to populate, and the fact that ERS had captured so much of our work. ERS makes a nearly impossible job accomplishable in an efficient and effective way.”
– Tera Carr, Principal at Hamilton Elementary

“I have been in the district for 29 years.  I am more excited about this opportunity than any before.  I truly feel supported by the district and the partners.  Thank you!”
– Janice Thoumire, Principal at Columbus Elementary

“I really enjoyed the work time with my school team and suggestions from the ERS team during that time. We were able to make some very positive strides towards getting to a place that is providing our students with the best possible chance to be successful.”
– Brenden Carr, Teacher at McClure Elementary
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