The talk sometimes heard around some young parents in the city’s core is that Oklahoma City Public Schools are great in the elementary years. But after that, you better get your kid into one of the Edmond Schools.
John Marshall Enterprise Mid-High senior Kennedy Angstadt did just the opposite when she transferred from an Edmond school into OKCPS.
“I made a decision to start here about 10 days into my freshman year and I haven’t thought about leaving since,” she said. “I love this school. We’ve grown as a family.”
Now she is planning to take even more concurrent college classes through Oklahoma City Community College after spending the better part of the school year doing so.
Angstadt is on track to complete her goal of entering college as a sophomore.
Free Press visited John Marshall Enterprise Mid-High School during the last week of school.
This year, 465 high school and 250 middle school students were served by the school.
Angstadt and Monique Pettigrew were both completing their junior years and eager to call themselves seniors in just a few days.
Pettigrew has been taking advantage of the close relationship John Marshall has with Metro Tech, one of Oklahoma’s Career Tech schools located in the metro.
She has already earned her CNA or certified nursing assistant credentials and is now working toward LPN, or licensed practical nurse.
“These teachers…they come here because they want to see you succeed,” said Pettigrew. “They want to see you be the best person that you can be. And I think that John Marshall gives kids that atmosphere.”
They displayed a playful and positive attitude about their school and showed a great deal of appreciation for their principal, Aspasia Carlson completing her seventh year at the post.
“Mrs. Carlson is helping us out with everything,” said Angstadt. “She’s always there, giving us the best we can have.”
Pettigrew jumped in to add, “She [Mrs. Carlson] really put forth the effort. And I feel like all of our teachers really do that. You can tell they really, really care.”
One of those teachers is Jake Steel, who still possesses a youthful appearance.
He is completing his third year as a teacher.
Steel’s experience as a political campaign operative in a previous work life has given him the ability to see potential in just about anyone.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said about his new life as a teacher.
“What I’ve learned through schools is that great change comes from the bottom, up,” said Steel. “It is very grassroots. You need to get a community involved. That’s what I’ve seen here.”
And he shows obvious enthusiasm for working under Carlson’s leadership.
“What’s been fun about working under Ms. Carlson is that she understands how to get community involved. She understands how you need to make change,” Steel said.
“I’m kind of, I guess, a teachers’ principal. I really loved being a teacher,” said Carlson.
She taught for nine years in Dallas Public Schools before becoming an administrator.
It allows her to intuit some of the stresses her teachers experience and what they need from her to be effective.
“I know the issues that teachers face and I try to be supportive, and to assist them as much as possible,” she said.
Carlson was named Oklahoma Principal of the Year in March, the first OKCPS principal to receive the designation in 35 years.
We asked about the multiple assignments Steel had been given across several subjects in his short three-year stint at John Marshall.
She said that he and other good teachers know how to listen and connect to students. It’s the first hurdle for teachers before ever approaching presentation of the subject matter.
Especially with students who come from difficult lives like so many of John Marshall’s students do subject knowledge is not the most important thing, she said.
“You can be the smartest person on the planet, but if you can’t relate to kids in a way for them to understand the knowledge, it makes no difference at all. None,” Carlson said.
When she first arrived she found teachers and staff struggling with motivation.
“I didn’t know where to start,” said Carlson. “So, I had to begin with some very basic things like respecting one another. Supporting one another.”
From there Carlson began to build a “collaborative culture to get teachers working together with just one goal in mind.”
But Carlson said the key was shifting the faculty and staff away from “doing things for the convenience of adults” to doing what was best for the students.
“It’s what are we all about,” said Carlson. “We’re about success for all kids. We’re about learning for all kids.”
The school is still a neighborhood school and the lack of selectivity is revealed in the fact that 80 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch, a standard marker in public education for assessing the poverty level of a student body.
And the struggle with outside pressures that affect John Marshall’s students is the most glaringly apparent in the middle school’s “F” overall grade on its state 2016 report card.
But the high school’s report card was “C” for 2016, showing that once the school has a student for several years, the performance begins to rise.
That’s where the school’s enterprise status comes in.
One among many examples of the strength of John Marshall’s enterprise status to meet students’ needs is shown by the flexibility in using funds.
Title I federal funds are typically used for pullout and/or after-school tutoring services.
And John Marshall has a large after-school tutoring program.
But because transportation for after-school tutoring is such an issue for students whose parents are working several jobs, Carlson applied to use some of those funds to pay for district busses to provide transportation home for students who stay for tutoring.
Compared to schools like Belle Isle Middle School and Jackson Elementary (previously Columbus), John Marshall has been a relative newcomer to the enterprise organization.
Carlson just completed her seventh year as principal of the school, but the first two years the school was organized as a traditional Mid-High school serving grades 7 – 12.
The original John Marshall High School was built in 1950 at 9017 N. University Ave. near the intersection of Britton Road and N. Western to serve students in The Village, Nichols Hills, Britton and what was considered then to be the far north side of Oklahoma City.
The building and the neighborhood around it aged over time to the point where it seemed better to make a jump to a whole new campus further northwest toward the population growth of the city.
When MAPS for Kids was passed in 2001, one of its many projects was to build the new John Marshall High School on a campus on the northwest corner of the intersection of Hefner Parkway and NW 122 Street.
The school relocated as a traditional school by the same name as its predecessor in 2005.
Once in the new building, one principal after another had a difficult time developing a unified sense of belonging for the students and teachers.
Stories about fights and melees at the school made their way into the news.
The district found out the hard way that simply moving a student body to a new building without addressing the stresses in the students’ lives was ineffective.
Then the district hired Carlson.
She came from Dallas Public Schools in July 2010 and spent the next two years picking up the pieces from the serial failed principal assignments.
After her first year, Carlson visited with other enterprise principals and started building support to convert the traditional school to an enterprise school.
After some angry responses from a few board members, the OKCPS Board of Education approved her request in winter, 2013 allowing the school to restructure as an enterprise school.
The site-based decision process and ability to deploy faculty and staff to better meet the needs of the students allowed Carlson to start building the current highly-motivated staff and faculty.