Northsiders protest school mergers

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Two months after the Pittsburgh Public School District Board of Directors approved the district’s realignment plan for the 2012-2013 school year, students, parents and concerned citizens gathered outside the Board of Education building to protest the closing of seven schools and merging of students from schools around the district.

NoChildLeft
NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND—Abu Malik, executive director of the organization Creating Positive Self Image, joins others in protesting the merging of several schools. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“The transition strategy must be developed and implemented well before the beginning of the 2012/2013 School year to allow parents, faculty and students the opportunity to become accustomed to the newly configured programs, as well as, build a cohesion between both populations. This initiative will also ensure, as much as possible, the welcoming and receptivity from the receiving population to the feeder population,” said Shanon Williams, an Oliver High School graduate who served as the group’s leader. “Due to the history of mergers throughout the districts of PPS, we are assembled to prevent any unnecessary reconfigurations of our schools past this point.”

The plan approved by the board on Nov. 22 will see the closure of Oliver High School, Langley High School, Fort Pitt PreK-5, Murray K-8, Northview PreK-8, Schaeffer K-8 and Stevens K-8. According to the district, transition teams have been organized at each of the schools involved in mergers.

While some of the 15 people at the protest on Jan. 23 were there to oppose the closures all together, others were focused on ensuring smooth transitions for students in merging schools such as Perry High School and Oliver.

“There needs to be more than just one meeting. The transition process is too slow for me. They are planning to have meetings between the kids, but there needs to be more for the parents and guardians,” said Shirley Ann Hill, a teacher from Oliver. “As a teacher, I haven’t met with any of the teachers from Perry. Our students haven’t met with Perry students.”

Oliver supporters advocated on behalf of the high school’s JROTC, Law, Culinary Arts, Cosmetology and Early Head Start Child Development programs. They said while Perry has a daycare center across the street from the high school, it is not free like Oliver’s, which would create a financial burden to young mothers.

Those who opposed the board’s decision to close the schools said they don’t believe there is enough time to prepare for mergers in the 2012-2013 school year. In reference to claims that the schools being closed are under enrolled, they said there are schools in the South with less students than the schools being closed.

“Speaking on behalf of what happened in the East End, it was a disaster at Westinghouse. So the district has proven their inability to successfully merge high schools in the time they have. There is no emergency that this has to be done immediately,” said Randall Taylor, former district 1 school board representative. “It’s African-American schools that appear to be closed only. We look to the South part of the city and we see that schools with 200 students are not being closed.”

Local and national districts are shifting away from “neighborhood schools” within walking distance for students and some in the Black community argue “neighborhood schools” maintain a system of separate but equal. However, members of the Northview Heights Citizens Council argued not having a “neighborhood school” was dangerous for children living in the Northview Heights housing development.

“The district has chosen to close our school, which will put the children in peril. They will be bused to two different schools. It puts them in the peril of the weather so my most immediate concern is when these students are waiting for the buses,” said Valerie Law, president of the Northview Heights Citizens Council.

“How are the parents going to be engaged in these schools when their children are at buildings they can’t get to. Parent engagement is number one and foremost. I believe they are targeting the poor. I believe this is race related. They’re shipping our kids like cattle.”

Several of the protestors spoke at the Board of Education public hearing following their press conference.

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