Last month Westinghouse High School Alumni saw their several time champion football team play what will probably be their last game as true Bulldogs. Now they already have their eyes set on the future legacy of their alma marter set to be combined with Peabody High School in the Fall of 2011.
On Dec. 1, the Westinghouse Alumni Association hosted a community education forum to discuss the East End High School Reform Plan, which includes Westinghouse, Peabody and Allderdice High Schools. They brought in former Pittsburgh Public School teachers and administrators who could now speak freely about the district without fear of repercussions.
“When they looked at schools in the East End, they didn’t consider Allderdice. Those of us who have lived in the area know that some schools are untouchable. There was no discussion about the kids at Allderdice,” said Reggie Bridges, Westinghouse Alumni member. “Today we decided we should hear from some of the people who have taught in our school systems.”
Among them was Johnson Martin, the former director of career and technical education for PPS, who almost saw a career and technical high school come to fruition in 2004. Now as an education consultant he says career and technical education is still needed in an economy where 68 percent of jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree.
“The curriculum being put forth across the district is a college preparatory curriculum and I see nothing wrong with that,” Martin said. “The problem is if you happen to be a student whose not keen on academics or math, or if you can’t get the help or mentoring you need, those students will be added to the growing dropout rate that already exists. We must train students to go into the job market.”
All of the panelists questioned the effectiveness of single-gender academies with large student populations, which is being projected once Peabody is combined with Westinghouse. Although they admitted that Black youth have had success through gender-based education, they said it requires certain key factors including a low student body size and extremely effective teachers.
“We know that African-American males particularly do well at gender-based academies,” said Sarah Jameela Martin, a former PPS teacher and administrator and a charter school proponent. “I agree that the school should be shut down and the positions recast. I think there should be a national search for an instructional leader.”
Robert Burley agreed that teachers were the key to making the merger successful. He also said teachers should have to make a three-year commitment to Westinghouse and receive training through other gender-based schools well in advance of the beginning of the school year.
“We need teachers that will make our kids learn. The key question is where do we find these teachers,” Burley said. “Let’s begin identifying teachers. Let’s begin training.”
As the former principal of Peabody High School, Vernon Phillips spoke on behalf of the Peabody students who would be losing their school identity completely. He said it was important to begin mending decades-old rivalries before the school year begins.
“There needs to be time taken to ensure that smooth transition. It’s not a neighborhood school, it’s a community school and we have to be prepared for that,” Phillips said. “There’s going to be kids from East Liberty and Garfield and we have to make them feel welcome.”