It’s back-to-school time. But what are our kids heading back to? Students in Pittsburgh will be missing 68 more educators when they start classes on Monday. Over the summer the board approved 36 new furloughs – on top of the 280 last year – and returned 32 teachers to furlough status (these were staff who had been laid off and then brought back for temporary positions). The majority are paraprofessionals who work right in the classroom with students, so our children will be directly impacted. [Post-Gazette, 7-25-13]
On Monday evening, one of those furloughed paraprofessionals, Clevon Owens, spoke at a press conference outside the board of education. Sponsored by Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh, the press conference introduced our new coalition and announced that Pittsburgh parents, students, teachers, and community members are standing up together for public education.
Mr. Owens spoke movingly about his work with children at Pittsburgh Linden K-5, where he was the transportation coordinator. He managed the bus system, greeting children and getting them safely to and from school, often working from 6AM to 6PM many hours past his shift to answer parents’ calls. He also worked in the classroom with students, getting to know entire families and making a real difference in kids’ lives: in one tough case, he was so successful in helping a boy he eventually became his godfather.
Now multiply stories like these over and over. These are the important adults in our children’s lives. Students need them to be successful. And we have an obligation as parents and community members to make sure our public schools have the resources they need to keep teachers and paraprofessionals like Mr. Owens in the classroom. That’s one of the main messages GPS Pittsburgh delivered on Monday night at the press conference, which received news coverage from KQV and KDKA on radio, and WTAE and KDKA on television. We will also have a story out soon in the Tribune Review.
Following the press conference, community volunteers moved inside the board of education to testify at the public hearing. This was extremely important because we needed to let our elected representatives on the school board know that there are now thousands of us coming together through this new coalition and that we are ready to stand with them to fight for our schools.
This is a critical moment. The district’s “Envisioning Educational Excellence” process is now wrapping up and officials intend to present their plan to the board in October. Last week, superintendent Dr. Linda Lane revealed some of that plan to the Envisioning advisory group. [Envisioning Advisory Group slides, 8-15-13] Here are the highlights:
- Close some elementary school closings. They are not telling us how many or which ones until they present the plan to the board.
- Open an International-themed elementary school in the North/Central region of the city.
- Possibly add language immersion to an existing elementary school.
- Expand the Online Academy program.
- Possibly open an arts-focused feeder school in the North/Central region.
- Continue to offer feeder pattern schools, but allow elementary students to attend any school in their region and high school students to attend any high school in the city if space is available.
- Streamline and offer fewer elementary and high school magnet programs.
- Eliminate partial high school magnets.
- Expand seats in popular schools such as Montessori.
- Introduce two Early College High School programs by 2015- 16 (students could earn up to two years of college credit)
- Explore moving Central Office and selling the building; continue trying to sell or lease unused buildings.
The advisory group asked penetrating questions about this plan, focusing especially on the issue of “school choice.” The room was unanimous in calling for quality public schools in every community, making this a far higher priority than offering more choices, introducing new programs, or reconfiguring older programs (“yet again and again” as one teacher reminded the district). One person after the next said we must focus on quality, so that families don’t feel the need to flee from their feeder schools into magnet programs, further creating haves-and-have-nots in the system.
Last week at the Envisioning meeting and again at the public hearing on Monday I put it this way: Until we have a great public school in every community – one that every parent in Pittsburgh is happy to send their children to – then we don’t really have “choice.”
So what are you envisioning for our public schools? More budget cuts? Fewer teachers and paraprofessionals? Larger classrooms? Or how about a community, thousands strong, standing together for public education and making great schools for all our kids a reality? Now that’s the kind of vision I can get behind.
Coming soon: I’ve been working all summer with the GPS Pittsburgh coalition to get our new website up and running, with lots of information on what we can do together as a community. I will let you know as soon as it’s live!