After less than two years serving on the Pittsburgh Public School District board of directors, District 2 Representative Dara Ware Allen will face off against two challengers in the primary election May 17. Allen, who was appointed to her position by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in August 2009, has received the Democratic Party’s endorsement.
“Having been involved the past 18 months, I’ve gained a real understanding of the critical issues facing the district,” Allen said. “I felt that it was my responsibility to continue to run to ensure continuity at a challenging time right now. My level of investment has deepened.”
Throughout her time on the school board, the district has gone through a number of highly controversial school reconfigurations, mainly in the East End. Although Allen stands by the decisions she has made to close and reconfigure certain schools, she said these decisions were the most difficult.
“School closures are always tough. I wouldn’t do anything differently, but those are always situations that give pause,” Allen said. “Populations are shrinking at schools and at the same time you have communities not wanting their schools to go away. But the achievement has also been low at those schools because we haven’t been able to provide the appropriate resources that we can at schools that have higher enrollment.”
|DARA WARE ALLEN
As the executive director of YouthWorks, a non-profit organization that deals with employment for youth, Allen has always been focused on ensuring the district’s graduates go on to find gainful employment. Last year, Allen played an integral role in passing a $38 million career and technical education plan, to provide students with improved training in health careers, information technology, business and finance, culinary arts and cosmetology.
“I’m proud of playing a role in the passage of a career and tech plan. It provides a good framework to build upon, with the summer opportunities that are going to be available to youth,” Allen said. “Since the plan was instituted there was a integration of career education into even the elementary level.”
Allen’s lead challenger is Regina Holley, a former school district principal who currently serves as a consultant for the Department of Education. Although, national trends in education have placed a large portion of blame for failing schools on teachers, Holley said school administrators must be held equally accountable for the achievement of students.
“I’m running for school board to help improve general instruction for all students. Our school district is in corrective action according to the No Child Left Behind law. Everything else relates to that,” Holley said. “My campaign is accountability for all. I’m holding everyone accountable for our children not achieving.”
Of her opponent Allen, Holley was not particularly critical. However, she did say her 16-year career as a principal at Lincoln Elementary School has given her first hand insight into what it takes to raise achievement in low-income neighborhood schools.
“I think what she’s not doing is not understanding what it takes to improve achievement in our district,” Holley said. “I was able to take a 94 percent poverty status school and turn it around. I know what it takes in order to hold people accountable for their work and make sure they do what they have to do to make children learn.”
In light of the district’s looming financial loss under the state budget, Holley questioned the district’s spending on outside contractors, such as $450,000 spent on marketing. She also expressed disappointment in Clayton Academy, the district’s alternative learning academy run by Nashville-based Community Education Partners.
“Another area I’m very concerned about with the district is their spending. We have wasted a lot of money over the past five or six years,” Holley said. “We have millions of dollars worth of contracts that haven’t done anything to support academic achievement.”
The third contestant, Celina Bassant, did not respond to requests for comment from the New Pittsburgh Courier. According to a voter guide released by A+ Schools, a non-profit community education organization, Bassant is an education instructor at Community College of Allegheny County.
District 2 includes parts of the North Side and East End. Schools in the district include Dilworth Pk-5, Fulton Pk-5, Sunnyside K-8, Arsenal Pk-5, Arsenal 6-8, Woolslair K-5, Schiller 6-8, and Spring Hill K-5.