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Superintendent: Teacher shortage is 'catastrophic'

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The teacher shortage is the most critical issue facing Oklahoma.

That’s according to Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools Dr. Deborah Gist.

“We have a situation in Oklahoma right now that is of catastrophic proportions. I fear it is not getting the amount of attention it needs to get,” said Gist.

Gist spoke at a board meeting Monday night and urged those who are interested in helping with the staffing shortage to visit teachtulsa.org.

Lauren Partain, spokeswoman for the district, said TPS is currently doing a deep dive into vacancy numbers. Recent reports say there are about 400 openings.

The board also approved a memo of understanding with the Kiowa Tribe for culture and language classes. Board member Judith Barba Perez said she thinks it’s an example of TPS diversifying offerings.

“How amazing is this?” said Barba Perez. “I’m excited to see this."

The board didn’t discuss the accreditation status of TPS, which was lowered to accreditation with warning by the state board of education after a single teacher complained some training materials violated HB 1775.

One unnamed man did get up during public comment and urged TPS to join a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma challenging 1775, saying the law banning the teaching of racial concepts in school that may make students feel bad is an affront to people of color.

“Now is not the time to apologize, acquiesce or accommodate this unjust, unwarranted assignment,” said the man. “I can only imagine the feelings of Black students hearing from a teacher that their ancestors were ‘imported workers.’”

School starts Aug. 18.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.