Students, a teacher, and the principal of Douglass High School were calmly clear that their lived experience there does not match the school’s “F” in the recent state school report cards.
Teacher doesn’t agree
Mauri Hubbard* is in her second year teaching at Frederick A. Douglass High School in Oklahoma City Public Schools and loves it. And, she’s flummoxed by the “F” grade the school received on its state school report card for the 2018-2019 school year.
We asked her bluntly if the school feels like an “F” school. We got an equally blunt and fast “no.”
“I have so many questions about how the data is assessed, how it’s gathered, computed, and compared to other schools,” she said shaking her head. “For them to gather from data entered on a computer: it’s not sufficient.”
“They don’t know what goes on inside the walls,” she said. “They haven’t built a rapport with the students, faculty, and staff here to know all of the opportunities that we have here at Douglass High School.”
Hubbard teaches in the Academy of Law and Public Safety, an in-house program of elective courses and after school events intended to give students a better understanding of the law and those who administer it.
She teaches Pre Law, the introductory course in the program with D’Andre Foster, also in his second year teaches the other one, Criminal Justice and Street Law.
Foster told us that the Academy provides an important link to the law as it is applied in the community around the students and as it interacts with their lives. He said that the Academy is just one of many opportunities students have at Douglass.
“When it hits, when you see their eyes open, even if they are not going into the criminal justice field, whatever they’re going to be engaged in, it helps them understand it,” said Foster about just one of the immeasurable aspects of an education at Douglass.
Does Douglass feel like an “F” school to him?
“No, not only does it not feel like an F school, it is not an F school,” said Foster.
“I am not saying we do not have room for improvement. But connecting with our kids and building relationships that transcend whatever ambiguous rubric they use to score our school holds more weight in my view.”
He said, “Exposing our demographic of youth to career and post-secondary educational opportunities is one of my favorite things about the Academy.”
Students speak up
Three Douglass students who have been in the program’s courses also met with Free Press to talk about their experiences at Douglass.
All of them had variations on the same theme: Douglass is a school where teachers have high expectations and care about students. It’s also a school where students go about their learning and get along.
“We have a lot more diverse people up here than you would expect,” said TreVon Malik Jenkins, a junior. “To look at them, you wouldn’t think they do nothin’ in school, but they have decent grades, they’re respectful. It’s a good school to be at.”
One revelation was eye-opening because it has so much to do with the data that figures in heavily as school report cards are generated.
He said that students he knows who make good grades and work hard don’t take the standardized tests seriously and don’t try sometimes.
Agueda Espinoza said that there are people of many different cultures in the school which is a positive for her and is a strength of the school that was once completely African-American due to segregation laws in Oklahoma.
Lejend Collins is a transfer in from the now-closed Oklahoma Centennial High School.
We asked if there were any differences between the two schools.
“Yes, a major difference,” she said. “We have really great teachers here at Douglass. I feel like they really push you and motive you to be the best that you can be.”
She said she likes the diversity of the student body and the extracurricular activities.
“They tend to get on your butt about your grades,” Lejend said about her teachers.
She said Douglass does not feel at all like an “F” school to her.
This is an edited video compilation of our interviews with Hubbard and the three students Tuesday:
Thomas McNeely is the principal of Douglass High School and does not wave off any of the accountability of the school grading system.
As we talked with him in his office Tuesday, he was straightforward about what needs to be done to keep improving the school’s performance. But, he also is clear that there is more there than just the grade.
“We own what our score is, but we know that what we are is much more than just that letter grade,” said McNeely.
“We have a lot of great things going on in this building and we have done a lot of things to improve the culture of this building.”
One of the many activities that add value to the school for some students is the Poetry and Chill program that gives a particular expression to certain students.
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Updated: Dec. 6, 2019; 10:02 a.m. – additions | Dec. 6, 2019; 11:08 – In the original version we referred to the report card as being from 2017-2018. It is from 2018-2019.
*Disclosure: Mauri Hubbard is a distant relative of this reporter.