Pittsburgh Public Schools

Flickr User Shinichi Sugiyama

More Pennsylvania students and schools would benefit from private funding if State Representative Jim Christiana’s bill to expand two education tax credit programs becomes law.

Nearly $900,000 in grant funding has been pledged to implement Pittsburgh Public School’s plan to transition a Bloomfield elementary school into a partial STEAM magnet.

The school board voted to develop Woolslair PreK-5, the district’s smallest school with 110 students, into a partial science, technology, engineering, arts and math – or STEAM – magnet school in September after initial plans to close the school. The plan also includes developing curriculum at three other STEAM magnets, Lincoln prek-5, Schiller 6-8 and Perry High School. The board will vote to accept the grants at the April 22 legislative meeting.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

In Jim Seagriff’s classroom at Taylor Allderdice High School, there are a half dozen furnaces and boilers. A small closet area is set up the way a basement would be. Goggle-clad teenagers adjust knobs on mock refrigerators.

These are HVAC students in the Career and Technical Education program.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A task force charged with examining and recommending changes for Pittsburgh Public Schools has released its report after a year of work. It focuses on five areas: public safety, out-of-school-time programming, community schools, school funding and marking the city’s schools.

When the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh recently asked community leaders to identify the biggest unmet needs for children the number one priority was prevention of childhood obesity.

It just so happens that Children’s Hospital has a weight and wellness center, and a partnership with the Pittsburgh Public school district was quickly formed.

“When we interacted with [district leaders] they asked that we partner with some type of program with established outcomes that would help us better monitor our success,” said Children’s Hospital Vice President Kathy Guatteri.

Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) are making progress in the graduation rate, and the number of students enrolled in AP classes, but that progress is not seen equally throughout the district according to A+ Schools 10th anniversary report on the 2013-14 school year.

The report examines all schools in several categories including: proficiency of teachers, per pupil spending (excluding transportation, principal salary and building costs), if students feel challenged and cared for, suspension rates, PSSA scores, and a breakdown of most scores based on race and income.

Flickr user joseph a

Pittsburgh’s City Task Force for Public Education has achieved its primary goal of preventing any school closures for the 2014-15 school year, but City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said there’s still more work for the group to do.

That’s why she is sponsoring legislation to turn the temporary task force into a permanent commission.

Of the 51 schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district rated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, only 16 of them met or exceeded the state’s goal of have all schools obtaining at least 70 points on a 0-100 scale.

A one-year study on community engagement in public education found that empowering parents and the community to be more active in their children’s education could improve outcomes for students.

That's according to a one-year analysis done Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR) on behalf of the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments. As a result, Heinz Endowments is supporting a two-year effort to increase community engagement.

With 5,200 students benefiting from the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fund in the last six years and more than $140 million dollars raised toward a $250 million goal, Pittsburgh Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril is pleased with the progress.

The numbers were announced as part of the program’s annual report to the community release Wednesday. 

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As school budgets continue to shrink or remain flat, many teachers are left short of needed equipment, or have classroom wish lists that don’t fall into budgeting priorities.

Enter the website DonorsChoose.org.

Through Donors Choose, teachers submit requests and then anyone can donate to whichever project they chose – hence the name.

On Thursday, Google announced it was fully funding the requests of 79 Pittsburgh-area teachers.

To keep Pittsburgh kids on track as yet another school year picks up speed, United Way’s middle school mentoring program has expanded to two more Pittsburgh Public Schools, Brookline and Colfax.

As part of the expansion the program is looking for more mentors to visit their mentees at 1 of the 14 participating schools at least once a week from October-May.

The Business of School Lunches

Aug 26, 2014
Lance Cheung/USDA / Flickr

Whether they brown bag it or purchase the cafeteria offering, lunch can be one of the most important parts of a student’s day. This week contributor Rebecca Harris looks at the business of school lunches.

As state lawmakers continue to work with Philadelphia officials on getting school to start on time this year, Pittsburgh Public Schools are slated to start on time, and with no layoffs. Philadelphia's school system faces a $81 million budget gap, and officials there say it could delay the start of the year and lead to layoffs and larger class sizes.

Pittsburgh School Board President Thomas Sumpter said the schools are not in crisis mode, but the system does face challenges.

Last year, students from several Pittsburgh public schools came together with education advocacy group A+ Schools and the Education Law Center to craft the Student Bill of Rights. While the entire list was not adopted, parts of it were incorporated into a revised Student Code approved by the Pittsburgh Public Schools board.

Despite its lengthy waiting list, the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park (ECS) was recently denied permission to expand by the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) Board of Directors.

ECS is a K-8 school created in 2008 to provide alternative education with a focus on the environment. According to ECS Director of Innovation and Development Nikole Sheaffer, the school has a yearly waiting list of 400 to 500 students, and sought to expand to serve that demand.

Gates Foundation / Flickr

Pittsburgh Public Schools might be modifying its Code of Student Conduct to reflect changing attitudes on zero tolerance. With input from parents, educators and students, the Board of Education will vote Wednesday on whether or not to decrease the use of exclusionary discipline, such as expulsion and suspension, among other changes.

Cheryl Kleiman, a staff attorney with the Education Law Center, was one of the collaborators in the new proposal.

“The Education Law Center has been looking at school discipline and zero tolerance policies in Pittsburgh, around the state and nationally for years...zero tolerance policy is a policy that assigns predetermined punishment to a specific violation of school rules regardless of the situation or the context."

Kleiman says while they've become the norm nationally, zero tolerance rules have come under scrutiny because they are viewed as too rigid.

"The changes that are being voted on tomorrow night reflect a lot of stakeholder input," said Kleiman. "Parents, students, educators, teachers, as well as recent federal guidance on this issue. And reiterates the concerns for zero tolerance policies and instead provides more support and resources for school districts to minimize exclusionary discipline while keeping the schools safe."

More than 60 percent of the 25,000 jobs available in the Pittsburgh region require specialized technical training - but only 40 percent of them require a four-year degree, according to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board.

That’s why the Pittsburgh Promise and Pittsburgh Public Schools are offering a new trade education program for 10th, 11th and 12th grade students starting this September.

Flickr user joseph a

Pittsburgh’s City Task Force on Public Education is set to hold their first meeting Tuesday evening, a little more than three months before they are expected to present their recommendations to Mayor Bill Peduto.

As the school year ends, summer learning loss, or "summer slide," might begin.  According to the National Summer Learning Association, the loss amounts to about two months in math for all students and two months in reading for low-income students, while unequal access to summer learning opportunities might  account for half the achievement gap between low- and high-income students.

A relatively small spending bill came before City Council Wednesday, but instead of focusing solely on the measure at hand, the legislators used the opportunity to bend the Peduto administration’s ear on the state of public education in Pittsburgh.

The bill would authorize the city to spend $20,000 to hire Preston C. Green as a mediator for the Mayor’s Public Schools Task Force. The legislation creating the body, which was passed in October and amended in April, requires a “trained mediator who shall serve as an ex officio member.”

Is Teacher Absenteeism An Issue For Pittsburgh Public Schools?

May 27, 2014
Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

 

Last week, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a roadmap to enhance teacher effectiveness in Pittsburgh Public Schools. The report was commissioned by the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and A+ Schools. Kate Walsh, CEO of the National Council on Teacher Quality explains some of the good that has come along with the roadmap and Pennsylvania’s teachers.

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report stating Pittsburgh has come a long way in terms of measuring effective teachers and compensating educators.

But the report also states more needs to be done, including making sure the Pittsburgh Public School District ensures every school has effective teachers.

“One of the things we did notice was that it has not been successful at persuading some of the better teachers to go work in some of the toughest schools,” said NCTQ CEO Kate Walsh.

Pittsburgh Public Schools students are calling on the Board of Education to adopt a Student Bill of Rights to remedy what they say are inequities across the district. 

The effort is spearheaded by TeenBloc, a coalition of student leaders and organizers in Pittsburgh’s high schools that aims to affect positive change, and A+ Schools, a community alliance for public education.  Surveys were completed by more than 400 high school juniors and 26 principals, counselors and teacher leaders in nine PPS secondary schools.

Mayor Bill Peduto has appointed a 21-member task force which will take a look at public education in Pittsburgh.

The group includes elected officials, education leaders and others.

“We’re bringing together everybody,” said Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty, “unions, foundations, city council people, school board members and probably the coolest thing, three high school students who are going to be full voting members in this task force’s recommendations.”

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

A coalition of parents, civil rights advocates and clergy stood huddled together in the cold outside Pittsburgh King PreK-8 School on the North Side Monday morning to announce their support for the school district’s teacher evaluation system.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was in Pittsburgh with Mayor Bill Peduto on Monday to announce an upcoming audit of Pittsburgh Public Schools.

DePasquale said the audit is part of a larger statewide effort based on a new three-tiered system that ranks schools based on financial risk.

“We are starting our first wave of high risk audits, and Pittsburgh is our first high risk audit for the Western part of the state,” DePasquale said. “That’s not just because of the size of the city, but simply the financial challenges that the city school district is facing.”

A+ Schools is looking for volunteers for their fifth annual School Works research project, to survey principals, teachers and counselors at Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Executive Director Carey Harris said that this year, in addition to asking school staff about the resources and opportunities, they make available to their students, teen volunteers will survey their peers.

“We’ll be asking students about their experience with teaching, what’s working for them and what isn’t, and what do they think needs to change,” Harris said.

The Pittsburgh Public School Board has four new members, the largest turnover for the group since 1999.

A+ Schools is calling on the public to help keep the board accountable. The public education advocacy group is seeking volunteers for the Board Watch Program.

“We think it’s important that the public is aware of what’s happening, what kinds of decisions the board is making and the manner in which they’re making them,” said A+ Schools Executive Director Carey Harris.

Four members of the Pittsburgh Board of Education are nearing the end of their terms, but they have some big votes scheduled Tuesday evening before they end they leave their seats on the board.

However, Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, a coalition of several organizations including the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and Action United, don’t want those outgoing board members to cast votes on the sale of school buildings and a contract with Teach for America. 

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