More school closings looming for Hill, North Side

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The recent decision by the Pittsburgh Public School Board to close Pittsburgh Rooney 6-8 and Pittsburgh Vann K-5 schools has left some angry, some hopeful and some confused. Some groups are focused on improving the existing schools in Pittsburgh’s African-American community and others are worried more school closings will follow.

“As we have been watching the decline of the student population in Hill District schools and as we have been listening to the board, going back three years, we can’t say it came as a surprise, although it was a disappointment,” said Sala Udin, chair of the Hill District Education Council. “Especially Vann because Vann, at one time, was a model of academic excellence that people came from across the country to see.”

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PITTSBURGH ROBERT L. VANN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

It is this kind of legacy the council hopes to one day return to. Since the proposal to close the Hill District school was announced, the group has been working to ensure the remaining schools will see an increase in achievement.

“Rather than focus on the number of schools in the Hill District, we have chosen to focus on the quality of education of the schools that remain,” Udin said. “Our goal is to ensure the quality of those schools is so great that they will draw students from across the city and they could create such a waiting list that Vann might have to be reopened.”

Reaction from parents in the Hill District, and other areas affected by the school closings, has been quiet as there are no well-known parent groups currently active. However, Rev. Johnnie Monroe, council co-chair, said parents involved in the council and others he has heard from are in support of the council’s plan.

“We’re creating a blueprint to say, the schools that are still in the Hill District, here’s what we want them to offer,” Monroe said. “No parents want their school to close. That was the consensus at the meeting we held at Milliones, but there weren’t that many parents at the meeting.”

Students from Vann will be redistributed into Pittsburgh Weil K-8 and Pittsburgh Miller K-5. The school board’s vote will also change Pittsburgh Weil from a K-8 to a PreK-5 school beginning with the 2010-11 school year.

“I’ve been consistent on the school closings. It is not a well thought out plan. It is based on politics. It is based on race,” said District 8 School Board representative Mark Brentley. “I think the people should be outraged about closing Vann School.”

Brentley said this reconfiguration has been the fourth change to Hill District schools in four years. With the change in Weil, all Hill District students in middle school will attend Pittsburgh Milliones University Preparatory School.

“How do you expect anyone to rebound with those changes? I believe there should be some disciplinary action on those employees who are recommending it and Mark Roosevelt should be reprimanded,” Brentley said. “These kids don’t know if they’re coming or going. They’ve had three different principals in four years.”

As Pittsburgh Schenley High School is being phased out, Hill District high school students have been fed into Milliones. Schenley High School will close completely in June 2011.

“What is the agenda here? It has nothing to do with education,” Brentley said. “Like the Hill District where they’re blocking Black kids in Black neighborhoods, they’re doing that in Northview Heights also.” Students who previously attended Rooney on the North Side will be redistributed to Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8, Pittsburgh Classical 6-8 and Pittsburgh Allegheny 6-8. However, current fifth-graders from Pittsburgh Northview K-5 will remain at their school as the board has approved an expansion of the facility to a K-8.

Northview, which is located in the Northview Heights public housing community, has the second lowest percentage of proficiency in both reading and math for fifth-graders. Roosevelt said the district would be mirroring a commitment from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to improve the area.

“It’s an interesting school. It’s quite a nice building and we intend to renovate the building. We’re making a commitment to that area,” Roosevelt said. “Whether neighborhoods are tough or not most parents still want their kids to go to school in their neighborhood.”

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