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October 22, 2007
Union District Experiences Growth, Change
Superintendent’s Goal: Help All Students
Image and story by DAVID JONES Contributing Editor Union Boundary
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
PLANNING AHEAD: Union Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cathy Burden, sitting, and Executive Director of Communication Gretchen Haas-Bethel discuss plans for the upcoming 2007-2008 school year.
In 1970, one grade school was all that was required to handle the youngest children in the Union School District. Last year, with the addition of Rosa Parks Elementary, the number of such schools rose to 12. Plans for a 13th are on the boards and with that, says Union School Superintendent Dr. Cathy Burden, the district will be nearly out of land.
What was once a largely rural area gently sandwiched between Tulsa and Broken Arrow has become an urbanized district with a sports program that strides like a Colossus over the game-mad Oklahoma landscape.
The school district has, in addition to those elementary schools, a sixth and seventh grade center, one for the eighth grade, an intermediate high school for ninth and tenth grades and a senior high school for juniors and seniors and an alternative school for students in ninth through twelfth grades.
“We cover 28 square miles and we have no more land set aside for new facilities,” says Burden. “It takes about 10 acres to have sufficient land for an elementary school. We can, however, add to existing facilities so we do still have some room for expansion.”
With a 2006-2007 total of 14,345 students, the system is a far cry from the tiny classes it used to conduct. The ethnic mixture of the student body is changing as well. Where the student body used to be hugely skewed to Caucasians, the mix is now 54 percent Caucasian, 16 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, nine percent Native American and six percent Asian. The fastest growing segment has been the Hispanic with the Asian moving steadily up. The school population has been increasing from one to five percent a year.
The schools are the same. Some of what goes in them is changing.
“By expanding the alternative program to include middle school students we are making a determined effort to bring the at-risk students back into the system,” Burden says. Many of these are youngsters who have already dropped out. “There are simply some students who don’t work well in a traditional school atmosphere, so we are working at giving them smaller classes and closer supervision.”
The school system is also opening a day care center where students with small children can drop them off in a safe environment near the parent’s classroom and pursue their studies without worrying. “If the parents are within certain federally mandated low-income guidelines, we can offer them a tremendous amount of help,” Burden says.
The federal programs are divided between four different schools, although by 2008 they will be consolidated at Rosa Parks Elementary. It is being run with the help of the Community Action Program (CAP) through the auspices of Head Start.
The children left at the day care center won’t be idle. Teachers will be teaching them various subjects and simple skills appropriate to their ages. In addition, a half-day program for four-year-olds is being expanded to a full day so that when the children are ready for kindergarten, they will be up to speed and used to an academic setting.
More than just traditional training is being offered. Classes in parenting skills are also being made available to those who qualify, and medical clinics offer care for people whose usual healthcare option is simply the emergency room.
For those who are new to the United States, instruction in English is being offered.
The Union district is by no means turning its back on the more gifted students. “For students looking for a greater challenge we have some advanced placement classes that offer a more rigorous curriculum for those who want it. Students wanting to take them don’t have to qualify or pass any entrance exams; they just have to sign up for them.
“We have a wonderful relationship with Tulsa Community College,” she says. “We are a college-oriented school district and a lot of our students can get a tremendous leg up by taking college level courses during their high school career. We had one student graduate with 73 hours toward a college degree.
“The Union School District is a wonderful mix. We have a nice balance of commercial establishments, residential areas and businesses.
“We have a tradition and sense of pride that is uniquely Union. We are eager to share the ‘Union way’ in our community and all it has to offer with our families and employees.
“We are trying to build a community spirit and that can be hard to get through to a person who has just come to the country and lacks basic English language skills.”
“We just want to help all our students, from those who are struggling to those who will go on to prestigious universities.
“That’s our mission.”