This is the fourth in a series about OKCPS enterprise schools. Other stories in this series are enterprise schools, John Marshall Mid-High School and Belle Isle Middle School.
When Free Press visited Jackson Enterprise Elementary school on the last day in June, students and teachers were relaxed, enjoying a much-deserved day of watching movies, playing games or drawing.
But nowadays the building at 2601 S. Villa is bustling as everyone is hard at work getting ready for another school year to start Tuesday.
“We’re ready for another exciting school year. It’s going to be great!” Principal Patrick Duffy said in almost a shout when we caught him by phone the week before.
Starting his third year there, Duffy’s energy and enthusiasm are a consistent aspect of his caring leadership of students, teachers and staff at Jackson.
The school is one of the original enterprise schools in Oklahoma City Public Schools having started 18 years ago in the historic Columbus building in the heart of the industrial south side.
They took the Columbus name until the organization moved to the former Jackson middle school building three years ago and adopted the name of the building to avoid confusion.
On the last day we talked with Duffy, teachers and students who were already getting ready for the next year.
Jocelyn Hernandez, ending her third-grade year, said that she enjoys going to Jackson.
“You learn. You can play and have fun with teachers and with your friends. And you can also pass grades and learn more so when you grow up, you can become something special.”
We asked what were the most important things she has learned this year.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is reading and math.”
Children are children
One of Jocelyn’s teachers is Ann Tinnin who has spent her entire teaching career with the Columbus/Jackson school.
That part of the city has always been a hard-working, industrial place.
And the people there have had a reputation for living tough lives in the past and recently as well, which Tinnin believes is an exaggeration.
She said her friends ask her why she is still there, especially since she is white and most of her children are of other races.
They assume her students must be especially hard to deal with because they are from families that are newly-arrived in the U.S.
But she strongly disagrees with them about the children.
“Children are children,” Tinnin said. “You’re going to have behaviors in any race. And I’ve had all the different races. I’ve even had Asian children here. It’s just children and their behaviors.”
She said Columbus and now Jackson have been excellent places to teach. In fact, she has never wanted to teach in any other school.
Tinnin credits that to leadership.
”I believe the principal is the variable in the whole school climate. Mr. Duffy is just the third principal that I have been through in 13 years,” Tinnin said.
“Mr. Duffy has done a fantastic job stepping in here the last two years,” she said with a confident smile. “He’s made a lot of wonderful changes that have brought a breath of fresh air.”
I love it
Kristie Rodriguez is another one of the third-grade teachers.
“I love it,” she told us.
But it’s not just because she is a teacher there. It’s because she is also on Jackson’s board, a highly unusual circumstance for public school teachers in Oklahoma.
“I think it’s nice to have a say in what goes on, and what happens,” Rodriguez said.
One aspect of enterprise schools is that each one has its own board. And each school has developed its own expectations for the role of their board.
For a deeper background on how enterprise schools in OKCPS work, see the first story in this series.
Duffy told us Jackson’s board is very much in a role of listening to all parties interacting with the school including community members, teachers and staff.
Out of the eight board members, five are community members, two are teachers and one is a bilingual teacher assistant.
The broad spectrum of board members brings unique knowledge to decisions.
And that’s what Rodriguez loves about Jackson.
Duffy said Jackson negotiates its contract with the district each year just like the other enterprise schools do.
They receive a set amount of money per pupil and live within that amount.
Duffy said he and the board have much more freedom to spend the money the district gives than principals in traditional schools do.
And that allows him to shape spending on staff to meet the needs of his students who come from the majority Hispanic population around the school.
Their school is not an application school, but a boundary school. If you live in the neighborhood of the school, you have priority to get in.
And there is a greater need in their heavily-Hispanic neighborhood for bilingual assistants to help students who are still learning English.
Their official designation is English Language Learners, or ELL.
“The way the money is laid out, we can hire bilingual assistants,” said Duffy. “We have upward of 15 or 16 bilingual assistants that are able to be with the kids for their direct instruction.”
“So, we don’t have a pullout program,” he said. “We are just able to hire that way.”
But the money is getting tighter every year for Duffy.
“We took a 6 percent cut on our finances this year,” said Duffy. And he doesn’t know what this school year will bring.
He adjusts their budget according to the money the district gives them.
“If they cut the money they give to us, we cut our budget here,” Duffy said.
As he waits to see what hand the Oklahoma Legislature will deal the district and thereby his school this year, he will continue to enthusiastically lead the school that means so much to the people of that south side neighborhood.