Thanks to a series of retirements, the Pittsburgh Public School Board now has four new members — the highest turnover for the board in 14 years. The new members are excited and optimistic about the future of the district, though all say they’re expecting a tough job.
Sylvia Wilson is taking over the seat vacated by one-term board member Sharene Shealy. Wilson recently retired as assistant to the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and wants to see change in the district.
“Things are very grim,” Wilson said. “People have thought that I was crazy for doing this, but I believe that when you see a problem, instead of blaming people and pointing fingers you jump in and you help to resolve whatever problems there are.”
Wilson said her priorities include the district’s financial situation and attracting families to and keeping more of them in the district.
“I know this isn’t going to be easy; I know this is a difficult situation,” she said. “Nobody can come in and wave a magic wand and be able to cure everything. So it’s just a matter of showing that as a board member, as a school director, we all have to work together to make things happen.”
In District 5, Terry Kennedy will be taking the seat vacated by Theresa Colaizzi. Kennedy said she has a unique perspective to bring to the school board as the mother of a special-needs child who went through Pittsburgh Public Schools. One of her main priorities will be fighting for a fair funding formula statewide for students with an individualized education program, or IEP.
“That funding formula assumes each of the 500 districts has 16 percent of its students with special needs and they all have the same costs to their services,” Kennedy said. “Well, reality has it every child’s services is defined by their IEP and the costs of said services varies.”
Kennedy said she has learned a lot being the mother of a special-needs child in the district and looks forward to the challenge of working with the administration.
“For everything I know I’m sure there’s a lot I do not know so I look forward to learning more, and I’m hoping we’ll have a good four years despite the challenges coming up," she said, "and I’m looking forward to helping overcome the challenges and coming up with solutions.”
In District 9, Carolyn Klug will take over the seat held by Floyd “Skip” McCrea.
“I’m a retired Pittsburgh Public School teacher, and I’m still very concerned about what’s going on with our students and I still wanna help,” Klug said.
Klug said she would also like to see more families move to the district and keep their kids in the public schools, but she added that equity for each student needs to be addressed. She is also opposed to closing any more schools.
“The Pittsburgh Public Schools is a big part of the Pittsburgh community as a whole,” Klug said. “I think we need to ensure that we grow and continue to grow on our strong policies and projects that we have going on right now.”
In District 7, Cynthia Ann Falls will take over the seat of the longest-serving school board member Jean Fink. Falls was a teacher at two Pittsburgh high schools from 1992 to 2010. She said the collective experience of board members will help inform decisions.
“We have elementary teachers, we have a high school teacher, we have a principal, we have someone who’s been very versed in elementary and union experience, so we bring a lot to the table of different variety and different levels,” Falls said.
She said she’s ready to jump right in.
“It’s not all about one specific topic; it’s about looking at and being open-minded about all of them,” she said.
District 3’s Thomas Sumpter will be the only incumbent returning, the other four seats on the board were not up for re-election this year.