It's hope he's chasing. But can Mayor Dewey Bartlett deliver?
Too often, young people don't see a path to a good job, said Bartlett, describing why he's pushing to create an aviation-focused internship and training program for high school and, eventually, junior-high students.
Bartlett recalled sitting down with Kirby Lehman, at the time the superintendent of Jenks Public Schools.
"He and I had lunch a couple of years ago. He stated talking to me about that concept, about a lack of hope, or a need for hope, in the eyes of his students, as well as other students in our community," Bartlett said in an interview.
Bartlett cited that meeting as the genesis for a proposal he unveiled in his annual State of the City address earlier this month. The sunny speech highlighted accomplishments under Bartlett's administration, as he finds himself in a heated battle for re-election against former mayor Kathy Taylor.
Though short on details, Bartlett conveyed the gist of an education training program that would involve heavy involvement from local employers like American Airlines and Spirit AeroSystems.
"Our aviation history is legendary, and the industry is moving in a very positive direction," Bartlett said -- though just a few days later news trickled out that local union leaders for workers at American Airlines informed union members that up to 400 layoffs may be imminent.
Bartlett continued: "For the first time, we will offer a pathway to prosperity for students who have fallen through the cracks as well as those who have not yet had their creative light turned on. This concept will allow high school students to be exposed to a pathway to skilled labor or a pathway to engineering. That student will graduate with a variety of career options."
Asked about Bartlett's concept, a written statement from Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard wasn't exactly full-throated support for the concept.
"It is an interesting idea," Ballard said in the statement. "We would need to thoroughly analyze the needs of the aerospace industry and our existing assets to see how we can be helpful."
Unsurprisingly, Bartlett's opponent, former mayor Kathy Taylor -- herself an outspoken education advocate -- found flaws with the proposal.
"It exists," Taylor began, explaining that already the state's CareerTech program at Tulsa Tech's Riverside campus features an MD-80 plane donated by American Airlines. The CareerTech program includes partnerships with both Tulsa Community College and local high schools, Taylor said.
She admitted that she didn't know the full details of Bartlett's proposal, but expressed skepticism.
"Let's be mindful of limited tax dollars and not duplicate efforts," she said, later sounding even more dismissive of Bartlett's proposal based on what she's heard of it.
"It seemed like a political announcement to me. Not a very well thought out workforce development program, frankly," Taylor said.
Her own ideas on the education front include a mentoring program she began while serving as mayor. Taylor also noted the launch of the Tulsa Achieves program offering up to 100 percent of tuition and fees at Tulsa Community College for Tulsa County high school graduates with a minimum 2.0 grade point average.
She described a need to bring more groups together to focus on ways to improve education in Tulsa.
"Right now, I think it's a very general issue. 'Well, we have a high dropout rate. There are areas where we don't' have a significant workforce.'" Taylor said. "But where's the data that we're making progress and where's the very pragmatic plan on the progress? It's great to think and brainstorm ... but we have a set of assets, we have a set of needs, let's document those, bring the leaders that can make an impact together.
She continued: "And that's what the mayor can do. If a mayor takes strong leadership, the mayor can call together people to make an impact."
Bartlett admitted that his proposal still has plenty of hurdles to clear.
"What we've done is start out with a small number of people. The next step will be to have another meeting, which we're in the process of scheduling now," Bartlett said. After that, the next step will "probably be having an aggressive approach to the boards, the school board, Tulsa Tech and others to get them to buy into" the concept, he said.
In terms of the program, "hopefully we can have something within a year," Bartlett said.
In his State of the City speech, he spoke about having a facility at the airport, but also said "it could be a tent as far as I'm concerned."
In the interview, Bartlett also didn't emphasize the need for an airport facility. "The airport itself has a large number of buildings. The trick would be to smartly locate it in an existing facility, which would be a fairly minimal cost. I think that once we see that this concept would work, it could even be located at Spartan aviation. They've got a great classroom facility," Bartlett said, referring to the aeronaoutics college.
His vision involves an intense exposure to skills needed to work in aerospace or aviation.
"Using one's hands, such as welding or aircraft mechanics or metal fabrication. Machining tools and die making. Using CAD systems," Bartlett said. Along with picking up skills, there "would be a very aggressive mentoring aspect, where a student would work alongside an employee of one of our onsite tenants."
And, taking a long-range view of things, "we could, in fact, have an aviation high school of our own in Tulsa."
Taylor spoke about the importance of education being a community issue, and pointed to efforts like the Strive partnership model in place in Dallas and elsewhere as a way for groups to come together and also be held accountable for improving education.
She declined to comment on how to best evaluate Tulsa public schools. "I'm not looking at evaluating schools," Taylor said, explaining that her view is to look at the big picture: "How do we make sure that we have a workforce that can help themselves and our economy be competitive in this global environment in which we live?"
Bartlett wasn't too different in describing how he evaluates education.
"I see education as a pathway to prosperity, to being able to get a job, support oneself, support a family ... that to me is the goal," he said.
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