Citywide Education Progress Reports

TULSA: Building a Pipeline to College in East Tulsa’s Growing Latino Community

“I always knew I wanted to come back to East Tulsa and start a college prep school,” says Elsie Urueta, who founded Tulsa Honor Academy (THA) in 2015. She was a first-generation immigrant, and Teach for America drew her to become a teacher—first in St. Louis and then at Chicago’s highly successful Noble Street charter network. Urueta says East Tulsa’s Latino population has grown rapidly since she first arrived from El Paso with her Mexican immigrant parents in the 1990s. Yet, the community can still feel isolated and underserved by good school options. The THA Familia—as Urueta calls her team—aims to raise expectations for its middle schoolers, making good use of data to guide instruction. And indeed, these kids are outperforming comparable schools in the city.

Starting a new school anywhere can be daunting work. Urueta received a fellowship from Building Excellent Schools, which helped her develop her charter application and provided valuable leadership coaching during her first two years. Although it has outgrown its existing facility, THA also benefited from colocating on district campuses. The Tulsa District-Charter Collaboration Compact provides an avenue for accessing district services on favorable terms, including facilities. Charter leaders say that the district’s Chief Innovation Officer Andrea Castañeda has brought new energy to the collaboration work. As its students mature, THA plans to expand into high school, creating a complete pathway to college in East Tulsa.

View Tulsa’s citywide education progress report.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email