A steady influx of Hispanic children combined with student mobility among schools and rising poverty rates have led to a changing face for Tulsa-area classrooms over the last five years.
"We are not seeing a large transfer population. These are students who live in our area," said Principal Ginger Bunnell, whose school, Memorial Junior High, has seen a marked increase in Hispanic students even as its overall enrollment has fallen by 16 percent since 2007. "We provide translators for open house and parent conferences and make sure any materials sent home are provided in Spanish as well. They are very concerned about their children and want to know how they're doing, so we want to make sure they can connect with us."
The demographics of Tulsa Public Schools have shifted dramatically, even as enrollment has remained level at about 41,000. With an enrollment of 8,021 -- nearly 2,700 more than were in TPS in 2007 -- Hispanic students now fill more than one-quarter of the district's seats and hold the majority at 10 of its roughly 75 sites.
All the while, the percentage of black and white students as part of the overall enrollment has dwindled -- from 34.9 percent and 34.4 percent, respectively, in 2007-2008 to 29.5 percent and 28.7 percent in 2011-12.
Larry Smith, assistant superintendent for school accountability at TPS, said demographic trend data indicate Hispanic students may outnumber all other racial or ethnic groups within two years.
Likewise, suburban districts that serve students within the Tulsa city limits have also seen significant increases in the percentages of Hispanic students as part of their overall enrollments. Union schools are now composed of 24.1 percent Hispanic students, compared to 16.9 percent five years ago, while 9 percent of Jenks schools students are Hispanic, an increase of 2 percent over the same period.
TPS sites with 10 percent or higher growth in the overall percentage of students who are Hispanic are Bell, Cooper, Greeley, Jones, Lindbergh, Owen, Salk, Sequoyah and Skelly elementary schools; Hale Junior High; and East Central and Hale high schools.
While nearly every school in east Tulsa has seen significant increases in Hispanic student population, the site with the highest leap is a northside school -- Sequoyah Elementary, 724 N. Birmingham Ave. There, Hispanic students represent 55 percent of the student population, compared to 35 percent five years ago.
Nearby is the school with the highest ratio of Hispanic students in the city, Springdale Elementary, 2510 E. Pine St., where two-thirds of the 530 students are of that ethnicity.
The eight other schools in TPS that are majority Hispanic or just shy of that mark are Celia Clinton, Cooper, Disney, Kendall-Whittier, Kerr, Lewis and Clark, McKinley and Mitchell elementary schools.
Melanie Poulter, senior planner for demography and geography at the Community Service Council, said Hispanic population growth patterns have provided vital lifeblood for sustaining Tulsa's inner city.
"The Hispanic population is growing in east Tulsa and near-north Tulsa. Hispanics are taking over areas that have been left by blacks and whites, which is a really important thing for our city," Poulter said.
She added that north Tulsa's percentage of black residents has been steadily declining since 1960.
"At that time, a huge portion of Tulsa County's black population lived in north Tulsa -- 92 percent. In 2010, that percent had dropped to 43 percent," Poulter said.
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