All students deserve great schools with inclusive access to a full range of opportunities so that they may succeed in colleges, careers, and communities.
Opportunities in our schools:
Appropriate class size and supports: We know what works. Smaller class sizes, combined with appropriate and qualified support personnel in each classroom. Care must be taken to allocate teachers and support personnel based on “needs” of students, not “numbers” of students. Twenty students does not equal twenty students.
School and class climate: We need a smaller ratio of kids to adults in each building with more teachers, counselors, social workers, paraprofessionals, nurses, and librarians. There should be someone in each school who focuses on building a positive school climate, while developing the capacity of school staff. We must restore attention to art, music, physical education, and other programming that keeps kids wanting to come to school.
Whole-child centered education: Students need developmentally appropriate education that focuses on their strengths, with access to individualized programming, STEAM education, CTE, and a diverse and culturally responsive curriculum. We need to emphasize the wellness of children and staff, moving beyond just test scores to understand school success, so that we are addressing trauma, hunger, the quality of school food programs, the condition of our buildings and bathrooms, and children’s need for exercise and play. We must address other issues outside of the school day that impact student learning, including getting to and from school safely, access to Out of School Time (OST) programs, and family access to housing, jobs that pay a fair wage, and public transportation.
Improving student outcomes: Assessing student learning is important, but we need to fully consider the impacts of standardized curricula, on-line curricula, and over-testing. The district must continue to invest in the proven Community Schools model, to work collaboratively with community leaders to bring resources to each school. We must figure out barriers to implementation of programs up-front, bringing everyone who is impacted to the planning table, so that we avoid good plans that cannot be fully implemented.
Welcoming schools: We have opportunities to improve school climate so that our buildings are warm and welcoming places for all our students, families, and educators – from the very first communication families receive from the District, to regular interactions between parents, school leaders, and school staff. If we are going to transform the culture in our schools, we must monitor the implementation of current positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS) and restorative justice practices.
Supported Teachers: Teachers are critical to student learning and must be supported in their own professional growth. Evaluation of teachers must be fair and consistent. Are we asking current teachers what they need? Are we learning from retiring teachers at exit interviews? Are we inviting parents and teachers to share what would help them in building relationships with each other? We need more focus on teacher mentoring, new teacher induction, and professional development led by trusted experts who will make the very best use of teachers’ time and will address key gaps in preparation to teach the wide spectrum of students in the district. This applies to every educator that works with our students, including substitutes, paraprofessionals, and one-on-one aides. We must grow our own teachers with programming to help community members become educators in our schools.
School leadership: Quality leadership is a crucial issue for our district. Our building leaders need to be relationship builders who will collaborate with and listen to students, teachers and school staff, families, and the community. School leaders set school priorities and create the tone of the teaching and learning environment. The District must prioritize appropriate training, thorough evaluation, and continuous improvement of school leaders. They also must be building a bench of new leaders who are in schools, a part of the community, and ready to lead.
Special Education: There are three different departments that oversee Individualized Education Plans, 504 Plans, and Gifted Education Plans. This may work well from an administrative point of view, but in our schools, it’s a disaster. Especially when children have two of these plans at the same time, which is often the case. The under - over - mis - identification of students in special education programs must end. Our school leaders must make inclusion of students with disabilities a priority.
Transitions: Our students experience transitions that disrupt their learning. For example, we must improve the transition from early childhood education to school age programs as well as the transition of students arriving from other schools and other districts in the middle of the year. We must appropriately assess their needs, provide needed supports, and follow their progress.
Every student, regardless of race, sex, gender identity, disability, zip code, or income level has the right to a quality, inclusive education.
Opportunities in our schools:
Inclusion: All students learn best when they are in welcoming environments where they feel safe, supported, and respected. Every student has strengths, and when we nurture and embrace them, each child will be confident as a lifelong learner and part of a larger community. There is no better way to eliminate “hate of the other” then by learning together, in classrooms and schools that celebrate the unique identities of each child and educator.
Gifted and special education: District-wide testing of all students for gifted education can increase identification rates and support equitable access to the Gifted Center. That’s a good first step, but we can do more than that. Currently we have issues with both under-, over-, and mis-identification of students for both gifted and special education, and laws are not clearly understood or implemented. The process needs to include families and any changes to our delivery models should start with authentic community input.
Family involvement: We need to dismantle barriers for families to fully participate in their child's’ education. There must be someone in each school dedicated to building trusted relationships between each family and the school, who can identify and address needs.
Teachers: Teachers of color are a crucial resource for all of our students and a key to creating equitable schools. We need a multi-faceted plan for both hiring and retention, as well as quality embedded professional development for all of our teachers to teach the wide spectrum of students. Addressing teacher trauma and health must be a priority for the District.
Discipline: Discipline should be age appropriate, consistently implemented, and policies should move away from “control and obedience” models to proactively supporting students unmet needs and lagging skills. Under the district’s new policy, the number of suspensions has gone down (and days of learning has increased), but students of color and students with disabilities are still suspended at disproportionate rates. We can’t teach a child to read if they are not in school.
Curriculum: Student learning and positive experiences in school are significantly boosted when students recognize themselves in the “standard” curriculum. Teaching with a focus on honoring the unique identity of our children will help us continue to transform our schools and dismantle white supremacy and institutional racism.
Career and Technical Education (CTE): Through collaboration with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT), Pittsburgh Public Schools has been able to expand and strengthen its CTE programs. Students who take this path to viable careers should be celebrated and acknowledged in the same way as students who go to college.
Early Childhood Education (ECE): The United States is behind most other countries when it comes to ECE. We need to invest in a system of universal inclusive ECE where the providers are paid a fair wage. Through collaboration, Pittsburgh can be a leader in this area.
Access: Every child should have access to magnet programs, challenging courses, tutoring, counselors, mentors, after school and summer programming. Barriers to access are a district-wide issue, and must be removed.
Pittsburgh thrives when our district, community, and city leaders work together to improve education for all students.
Opportunities in our schools:
Building bridges: When our public schools are strong, our children and community thrive. In order to strengthen our schools, we need everyone working together. Our school board can help to build important bridges in that work between community members, local leaders, families, and the schools. Bridges bring people together and also make the work accessible to everyone. Bridges are also built on strong foundations: in this case, the strong foundation we need in public education is relationships built on trust, listening to each other, and unity for the common good.
Community schools: The district’s Community Schools model is an excellent opportunity for collaboration with community organizations, local leaders and families. To promote sustainable revitalization of our entire city, we need a co-constructed plan for public education that will get the best results in each community. We need holistic solutions that address the lack of affordable housing, serial displacement of residents, equitable wages, access to transportation, and healthcare as these issues disproportionately impact families with children in our public schools. The Community Schools model must expand so children in every school have access to programming to improve their educational outcomes and emotional well being.
State collaboration: We must work with our state legislature for bi-partisan solutions to school funding to cover such things as unfunded mandates and the lack of charter school reimbursements. We must collaborate on reinvestments in our schools so that we send strong signals to our students that we value them and care about their learning environment – from the quality of their lunches, to the condition of their buildings, and access to art, music, physical education, and extra-curricular activities. When teachers have to do go-fund-me campaigns for teaching supplies and PTOs need to raise thousands of dollars so schools can have the basics, we are not fulfilling our commitment to families in our community.
We must hold our leaders to high standards by allowing students and parents to have a voice and ensuring transparency in district decision-making.
Opportunities in our schools:
Budget: The district budget must be based on priorities and we must look for areas to be more efficient through collaboration. We need both a divestment and investment strategy that looks at current spending and how it corresponds to our priorities. We must ensure that when we spend money on consultants that we are getting results and building capacity of our own staff to do the work in the future. We must continue working with the state of Pennsylvania to provide equitable and adequate funding for general and special education, to restore reimbursements for charter school costs, and for core curriculum mandates, which is currently making private curriculum and testing companies rich.
Strategic planning and data: Our strategic plans must be informed by data and flexible enough to make adjustments based on new evidence. While data informs decision making, to meet students’ needs, we must listen to families, teachers, and people in the community. The parent survey is a missed opportunity to more fully incorporate family feedback into district policy. We must ensure that our strategic plans allow us to meet the distinct unique needs of the students we have in each school.
Charter schools: Charter schools are publicly funded and must be fully accountable for the education they provide to students as well as transparent in reporting about their board decisions, enrollment, and spending. As one of the largest cost-drivers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools budget, charter schools must fulfill their original intention by collaborating with the district on educational innovation leading to scalable program improvements. We should stand with the NAACP that has opposed the privatization of charters (2014), called for a moratorium on new charters (2016), and most recently a cap on charters (California, 2018). Until Pennsylvania state laws change to protect students against discrimination, we should not expand or add new charters. State legislation must also change so the district, as a charter authorizer, can take measures to hold charters accountable and so that charter schools are required to abide by the same requirements as public schools.
Role of the board: The board of directors should be held accountable to collectively allocate resources equitably to increase student achievement, set goals with and hire and evaluate the superintendent, and work collaboratively with local, state and federal legislators. Individual board members must seek authentic input from the community in various ways to increase communication. The board of directors needs to be able to change priorities in the district without micromanaging the administration. The board must avoid band-aid type solutions to problems, and dig to the core of issues to look for policies or practices that if changed, would improve outcomes for children.
I am excited to hear your ideas, from your perspective and experience. Contact me anytime!