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Sunday, July 7, 2024

Two Black Women Superintendents Now Leading Oklahoma’s Largest School Districts

Jamie Polk and Ebony Johnson

Nationwide — Jamie Polk and Ebony Johnson are making history in Oklahoma as the first Black women to lead the state’s two largest school districts. Polk is the Superitendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, and Johnson the superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools.

According to Oklahoma Voice, Polk recently landed her leading role at Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS), succeeding Sean McDaniel. Simultaneously, Johnson became the first Black woman to lead Tulsa Public Schools, the state’s largest district by enrollment. She was permanently appointed in December after serving as interim since September.

Polk expressed enthusiasm about collaborating with Johnson to enhance educational opportunities for students. She said, “It is our shared belief that every child should see themselves represented in the educators and leaders who guide them in their educational journey.”

Before Johnson’s promotion, Oklahoma had only one other Black female superintendent, Cecilia Robinson-Woods at Millwood Public Schools. Robinson-Woods sees the appointments of Johnson and Polk as a significant step forward for Black women in educational leadership.

Karlos Hill, associate professor of African and African American studies at the University of Oklahoma, highlighted the significance of this milestone, considering Oklahoma’s historical exclusion of people of color. He stressed the importance of addressing this history to promote equity today.

“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 said, “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, data from the 2022-23 school year reveals that while 77% of Oklahoma’s public educators are white, more than half of the students are racial or ethnic minorities.

Polk plans to recruit diverse teachers through the “Grow Our Own” program, which covers teaching degree costs for paraprofessionals in the district. Polk, originally from Iowa, brings 25 years of experience in education from Lawton Public Schools before joining OKCPS in 2019.

Johnson, a Tulsa native, has dedicated her entire career to Tulsa Public Schools, rising from chief academic officer to superintendent. She faces the challenge of improving academic performance under scrutiny from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Both Polk and Johnson are stepping into their first superintendent roles.

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