With the recent celebration of their high school building’s 100-year anniversary March 30, Wilkinsburg School District is turning their eyes away from the past and setting their sights on the future of their district and the achievement of their students. To reach the district’s goals in the next 100 years, superintendent Archie Perrin must overcome funding cuts currently being proposed in Governor Tom Corbett’s budget and an at-risk student population often more susceptible to what they learn outside the walls of their schools.
Wilkinsburg School Board Superintendent
“We are currently developing a comprehensive professional development plan for our teachers in light of the budget cuts by the governor. It will place a greater focus on the areas of reading and math, which are areas our students tend to struggle in,” Perrin said. “We feel that when dealing with an at-risk population, research does prove there is a way to reach them but we can’t do that through traditional means. We’re also restructuring our curriculum to meet the needs of the urban students we’re dealing with to help them compete in a global society.”
Although others have estimated more conservative cuts to Wilkinsburg, Perrin said the cut is closer to $3.7 million. This total takes into account an estimated $1.9 million cut at the state level and a $1.7 million cut at the federal level as the result of the expiration of federal stimulus funds.
“The federal stimulus money will run out. The funding we have to run some of these afterschool programs won’t be there anymore. Now I’m left with the task of how do I keep those services running without any money,” Perrin said. “The board isn’t going to be favorable to raising taxes so we have to look into our own budget.”
In terms of academic achievement, the school has failed to make adequate yearly progress on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Academic Achievement Report for the past two years. Perrin is working to improve his district’s performance through the use of curriculum such as the Allegheny Schools Science Education and Technology Program, which provides the school district with curriculum designed to help students meet and achieve state standards and Connected Mathematics curriculum for middle school students.
“I know the achievement of the kids in my district; I know it’s nowhere near where I want it to be. It is challenging and those children have a large hill to climb. It’s our job as educators to get them where they need to be. There have been improvements in regular education and special education. They have been sporadic, but they have been encouraging. We are headed in the right direction,” Perrin said. “The model that we’re trying to follow is one that’s data driven. We actually evaluate our programs and do a comprehensive analysis of them. I don’t think there’s one single program; bringing a program into the school district is not going to solve the problem.”
In order to combat negative outside forces impacting his students when they leave school at the end of the day, Perrin is looking for creative ways to run after school activities, even when his budget does not allow for them.
“We’re very concerned with what happens to them after the school day. We’ve developed a very comprehensive mentoring program,” Perrin said. “Because of our limited resources we don’t really have a lot (of extracurricular activities), but our basketball team just made state playoffs. They made great strides being such a small team. Some districts have done away with sports all together.”
Perrin said his district also presents unique problems many might be unaware of such as a large Special Education Department and transient population.
“We’re also faced with a daunting task of having almost over 25 percent of our students being special needs. We have almost 200 homeless students enrolled in the district at any given time. I have to come up with a creative way of addressing the needs of those students whether they end up staying in our district or not.”