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Tulsa superintendent, mayor seek to lower record school absenteeism

Students at McClure Elementary engage in a lesson on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024
Elizabeth Caldwell
Students at McClure Elementary engage in a lesson on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024

Tulsa officials are trying to spread the word that kids need to be in school. Listen above for an audio report.


ELIZABETH CALDWELL: In a classroom at McClure Elementary in Tulsa, a fifth grade student is translating English writing into Spanish for his tablemates.

STUDENT: ¿Como que paso como primero el segundo y tecero en orden?

CALDWELL: The students are trying to figure out the structure of a piece of writing. After a few minutes, teacher Ms. Diaz checks on the class’ progress.

ALLIE DIAZ: Gimme a thumbs up if you have number one done. I see Joseph’s done with number one, Anthony’s done with number one, Solange is done with number one.

CALDWELL: It’s lessons like these the school district says too many kids are missing. Here at McClure, only a little over half of the student body is considered to have good attendance. Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson says absenteeism is a national crisis and it’s especially bad in Tulsa.

EBONY JOHNSON: So nationwide about 30% of students are chronically absent. In Tulsa Public Schools, that figure sits at about 40%, and across Oklahoma it’s about 20%.

CALDWELL: Johnson spoke alongside Mayor G.T. Bynum, who pleaded for community support.

BYNUM: The reality is, and I’ve had a lot of folks ask me, ‘What can I do to help?’ When it comes down to it, it isn’t rocket science. Let’s get kids in school.

CALDWELL: If you’re a parent, you can share attendance concerns at tulsaschools.org/attend.

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.