Journal Record Article about Southeast High School

Southeast High School principal touts students

By M. Scott Carter
Oklahoma City / Capitol bureau reporter. Contact: 405-278-2838,, @JRMScottCarter. The Journal Record
Posted: 04:32 PM Wednesday, November 28, 2012 4:32 pm Wed, November 28, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY – At Southeast High School, the students have asked to be there.

Once considered a problem school in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district, Southeast has evolved into a top-flight institution where students apply for admission and the teachers come with master’s and doctorate degrees.

It’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets, said Principal Pat Borelli.

With about 700 students, Southeast was reopened in 1994 as a magnet school focused on technology. Over the past decade, the school – in a partnership with the state Department of Career and Technology Education – has developed classes in information technology, graphic design and digital video production, computer-assisted design and computer repair.

And its student excel.

In addition, Borelli said, Southeast has an ongoing partnership with several institutions in China, and it sends students overseas each year for 22 days of foreign study.

“We have a terrific school,” Borelli said. “But nobody knows about it.”

Indeed. Earlier this month, Southeast found itself at the center of a controversy after several members of an Oklahoma City Kiwanis Club, including Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Noma Gurich, sought to create a student chapter, known as a Key Club, at the school.

While most of the Downtown Oklahoma City Kiwanis supported the idea, the club’s former president, Terry Vanlandingham, cautioned against establishing a Key Club at Southeast, claiming in emails that students from the high school would not be allowed to attend the national Kiwanis convention.

“The district has said the kids from Southeast would not be allowed to attend convention if a club was formed there; just maybe gives you a hint of their attitude,” Vanlandingham wrote. “That means no potential Key Club Scholarships, at least from the foundation. Have to attend the convention to interview.”

Vanlandingham said he was simply passing along information he obtained from other sources when he asked other Kiwanis members, “do we want a Key Club member holding up a pharmacy?”, a reference to the widely publicized trial of Jerome Ersland, the white pharmacist who shot and killed a black teenager during a robbery attempt.

However, a review of Southeast’s academic record shows a school with rock-solid academic performance.

According to the state’s new A-F school grading system, Southeast scored an overall B ranking. Borelli said the school has a 98-percent graduation rate. He said students continually score 90 percent or better in core classes such as English and Algebra 1 when they take the state’s end-of-instruction tests.

“At Southeast we’re all about teaching these kids,” he said. “The end game is graduation. We want them to graduate and we want them to be prepared for the future.”

Borelli said there are few problems at the school.

“We have the same issues every other high school has,” he said. “But here, we also have kids who are homeless and who come from very modest homes. But they are smart and they come here to learn. They want to learn and that’s the difference.”

Borelli said the idea that Southeast is heavily populated by gang members is a myth.

“That’s not a problem,” he said. “I don’t see gang members, but if we do have them, I promise you they are making A’s and B’s.”

Gurich, who toured the school along with several other Kiwanis members, said the school would be an excellent site for a Key Club.

“This is a terrific school,” she said. “It’s obvious the students are working hard.”

For Borelli, the proof of that effort is in the data.

“I’m a data person,” he said. “And the records show it. These are great kids. They are smart and they are engaged. They just need more opportunities. Our scores are high and almost all of our kids graduate. Heck, they are here all the time. When I leave in the evening, students are still here, I have to send them home.”