Janet Dunlop’s first year or so as superintendent of Broken Arrow Public Schools has been marked by patience, tragedy and resilience.
She recently sat down with the World to discuss the next steps for Broken Arrow High School — the largest school in the state — and how the district has coped with multiple tragedies.
The high school, with grades 10-12, officially has 3,838 students enrolled for 2017-18, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and the district has seen continued growth. The possibility of dividing the high school has been talked about for years, but one of the first key decisions Dunlop made as superintendent was pressing “pause” on the high school reconfiguration decision.
The district plans to unveil what it will do to accommodate its growth in May at the conclusion of a nearly year-long visioning process. That will come more than a year after Dunlop, a newly-minted superintendent, slowed down a contentious process, which included a proposal to have three high schools in the city by 2031.
“We kind of stopped and said we’re putting form before function here, and I’m all about saying let’s look and see what we need to happen in the classroom and as the end result,” Dunlop said.
That was similar to what she said last spring when the reconfiguration process was put on hold.
She said final decisions on how many high schools the district will have, whether the district will have a separate STEM center for science, technology, engineering and math studies, and where that building or another high school will be located will be determined through the visioning process.
The visioning task force, which will wrap up its meetings in May, is made up of people who are involved with curriculum and other activities, she said.
Dunlop was adamant that the high school decision is up to the visioning task force and reconfiguration committee. However, she said that if they decide to create something different from a traditional high school model, it truly needs to be different.
“Just replicating the same model of a traditional comprehensive high school, that’s not going to give our kids any more opportunities than they already have,” Dunlop said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a traditional high, but I think it is one size fits all.”
In recent weeks, the visioning task force has discussed a STEM or STEAM academy — with STEAM adding art to the mix — and has heard from local higher education institutions, including Tulsa Community College and Northeastern State University, about how to incorporate a possible early college high school concept.
One hindrance to adding a high school is money. A new high school would come with a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars, and the district can’t issue new bonds until 2027.
Dealing with tragedies: As a new superintendent, Dunlop has had to guide the district through multiple tragedies. Shane Anderson, an Oneta Ridge Middle School teacher, was fatally shot while protecting his family from a robber in early October. His death came the same weekend that high school student Jaymeson West died in a fall from the top of Broken Arrow’s football stadium. He was a member of the Pride of Broken Arrow marching band.
In January, another band member, Noah Schriner, was killed in a traffic incident.
“There’s no guidebook. Even if you did have a guidebook, it wouldn’t apply because you just don’t plan for (such) things to happen,” Dunlop said. “I’m a mom first, and as a mom that was probably the worst, just knowing the pain that people are going through.”
She said the district, with all the support it has received from outside, is healing. But the tragedies and all the other things that come with the job have left her with a distinct impression:
“This position is a lot more difficult than it looks from the outside,” she said.