Pittsburgh Public Schools

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.

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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. 

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.

Tammy Terwelp / 90.5 WESA

“Where’s the moral outrage over the lack of equity in education,” asked Duquesne University Dean of Education Olga Welch who attended a recent community forum on the achievement gap held by 90.5 WESA.

“Where is it,” replied forum panel member Jeremy Resnick, a founder of Propel Charter Schools, “it’s missing.”

Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators crowded the Community Broadcast Center recently for a public forum as part of WESA’s Life of Learning initiative.

Flickr

Lack of Internet access can puts some kids at an academic disadvantage, says Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane.

Comcast and Pittsburgh Public Schools are teaming together to offer another year of “Internet Essentials,” an initiative that provides low-cost Internet service to low-income families.

“Parents may have iPads, they may have smartphones that have connectivity, they may have desktop computers that are hooked to the Internet, or laptops,” Lane said. “But then we also have children who may have little of that or none at all, so that their access to the Internet is only at school.”

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith is calling for a moratorium on school closures in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district until the end of the 2014-15 school year.

She has introduced a resolution in council that would recommend the PPS Board of Directors halt any school closings.

At a rally in front of council chambers Monday morning, Kail-Smith invited parents, students, teachers, and community organizers to express their concern over a possible fourth round of school closures since the early 2000s.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Lost in the conversations surrounding education are often the voice of those being educated — the students.

By introducing the Pittsburgh Student Bill of Rights, a group of high school students is trying to make their voice heard and change what they perceive as the notion that they are “just kids.”

Ninety percent of success in school is showing up — that’s what the United Way and its partners believe.

The United Way launched its “Be There” campaign Monday aimed at making attendance a priority at schools across Allegheny County.

“The concept is very simple, it’s how do you get the people outside of the schools, the community agencies, the faith-based organizations, the youth workers who have a great relationship with young people, to encourage 100 percent attendance,” said Bob Nelkin, United Way of Allegheny County President.

A New York City-based childhood education foundation is assessing summer learning programs across the country, including one in Pittsburgh.

The Wallace Foundation, a supporter of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamers Academy, hired Rand Corp., a nonprofit research group, to see if summer education programs improve student learning.

Senior Research and Evaluation Officer Ann Stone said the foundation is looking for ways students can have academic gains that last.

A new coalition of Pittsburgh faith leaders is adding their voice to the issue of education.

Through the nationwide Shepherding the Next Generation program, the group aims to support teachers and ensure all educators are effective and encourage Pittsburgh Public Schools to continue its push to hire and retain highly effective teachers. The group also released a report that highlights the importance of skilled educators.

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