On Oct. 5, 50 to 60 people gathered outside the Academy at Westinghouse to protest the possible name change of the historical Homewood school. If they’d known the results of the discussion, which produced suggestions for two names both preserving the Westinghouse legacy, they might’ve stayed home.
“It’s about removing the African-American culture. We oppose changing the name and the culture of the school. I believe this is a concerted effort to remove our culture,” said John Brewer, founder of the Westinghouse High School Commission of Recognition, prior to the meeting. “We feel pretty much opposed to what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to do it.”
The meeting, facilitated by the District Solicitor Jocelyn Kramer and Chief of Staff Lisa Fischetti, brought together staff, students, parents and representatives of the community to vote on recommendations for the new school name. As a result, the School Naming Group is recommending George Westinghouse Academy or George Westinghouse for approval to the school board’s School Naming Committee.
Though Brewer was invited to be a part of the School Naming Group, those not invited to attend the meeting were ejected from the Westinghouse building. Many argue this violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act that gives “the right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision-making of agencies.”
Closing the former Pittsburgh Westinghouse 9-12 and reopening the Academy at Westinghouse 6-12 granted Westinghouse a clean slate under the No Child Left Behind Act that gives funding to districts whose schools have made Adequate Yearly Progress on standard assessment tests. Under NCLB, if a school fails to make AYP for four years, the district must implement certain corrective actions to improve the school. Westinghouse has been in “corrective action II” for the past three years.
“What seems to be happening every time you hear about a name change, the reason is that if you change your name you get to start over. So that’s part of the reason behind it,” Brewer said. “We’re talking about a school that has national contacts. We’re not talking about a change that will have little ripple effect. When you look at the wall and you see the tremendous talent that went there, that still equates to the people who are interested in this school.”
The board’s School Naming Committee is comprised of District 3 Representative Thomas Sumpter, District 2 Representative Dara Ware Allen and District 1 Representative Sharene Shealey, who represents Westinghouse. The board is not bound by any recommendation submitted by the superintendent from the School Naming Group. After receiving the recommendations, the board has 30 days to vote on the new name.