Black Women Superintendents Now Leading Oklahoma’s Largest School Districts

Jamie Polk and Ebony Johnson are making history by becoming the first Black women to run Oklahoma’s two largest school systems. Polk is the Superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, whereas Johnson is the Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools.

Polk has taken over the head job at Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) from Sean McDaniel, as reported by the Oklahoma Voice. Johnson also became the first Black woman to oversee Tulsa Public Schools, the state’s largest system by enrollment. She was appointed permanently in December after serving on an interim basis since September.

Polk expressed eagerness for working with Johnson to improve educational options for students. She went on: “It is our shared belief that every child should see themselves represented in the educators and leaders who guide them in their educational journey.”

Prior to Johnson’s ascension, Oklahoma had only one other Black female superintendent: Cecilia Robinson-Woods of Millwood Public Schools. According to Robinson-Woods, the selections of Johnson and Polk represent a big step forward for Black women in educational leadership.

Karlos Hill, associate professor of African and African American studies at the University of Oklahoma, emphasized the significance of this milestone, citing Oklahoma’s history of exclusion of persons of color. He emphasized the significance of confronting the past in order to create equity now.

“We care about equity both in terms of making sure our kids are fairly educated, but we also should care about the people who are educating them,” Hill told me, “and making sure that there’s a diverse group of, not only teachers, but diverse leadership to make sure that the policies (and) the procedures of the school are not just reflective of one group, but of the community.”

Meanwhile, records from the 2022-23 school year show that 77% of Oklahoma’s public educators are white, yet more than half of the kids are racial or ethnic minorities.

Polk intends to recruit diverse teachers through the “Grow Our Own” initiative, which covers the cost of teaching degrees for the district’s paraprofessionals. Polk, who is originally from Iowa, had 25 years of education experience with Lawton Public Schools before joining OKCPS in 2019.

Johnson, a Tulsa native, has spent her entire career with Tulsa Public Schools, ascending from chief academic officer to superintendent. She is faced with the problem of boosting academic achievement while under the scrutiny of the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Polk and Johnson are both beginning their tenures as superintendents.

“Moving forward, OKCPS will remain steadfast in our dedication to cultivating leadership that reflects the vibrant tapestry of the communities we serve,” Polk informed the crowd.

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