In the fall, three schools in the Pittsburgh Public School District will begin implementing an alternative education model in the hopes of transforming their school culture and creating a positive learning environment. At the beginning of July, the PPS school board voted to hire Success Schools, which currently operates Clayton Academy, the District’s alternative education school, to bring their model to King PreK-8, Faison K-5 and University Prep at Milliones 6-12.
“This isn’t Clayton Academy; it’s a whole different concept,” said Jan Ripper, PPS director of student services. “The schools have chosen to contract with Success Schools to have a consultant in their schools and it’s going to assist the school staff with shaping the culture so that it’s a positive, safe, and welcoming teaching and learning environment.”
The Success Schools model is designed to aid students who have special needs, are at risk, involved in the juveniles justice system, and those who have dropped out or are in danger of dropping out of school. While Clayton Academy had previously been plagued with frequent violent incidences, the school has seen positive turnaround since the model was implemented.
“The principals chose. They went over to visit Clayton when we saw the turn around,” Ripper said. “They talked to staff there and wanted to bring it into their schools.”
The model promotes positive expectations for behavior and uses a student leadership system to celebrate positive behavior. Consultants from Success Schools will help set up systems at the schools, lead professional development, assist in day to day operations and serve as part of the leadership team at each school.
Aspects of the Success Schools model, including the promotion of norms as opposed to rules and the rewarding of positive behavior, have already been implemented at Faison with positive results. Teachers at the school say they saw vast improvement throughout the previous school year when elements of the model were implemented.
“The principal at Faison and the teachers really like the program. It’s about rewarding the children for positive behaviors,” said District 1 School Board Rep. Sharene Shealey. “The principal at UPrep also came out to the public hearing in July and he said it would work for their school.”
While Success Schools has received high praise from PPS teachers, principals, and administrators, some question the cost of hiring consultants to implement the program. The school board approved the allocation of $93,000, $140,000 and $140,000 to be used to hire Success Schools consultants at MLK, UPrep, and Faison, respectively.
“To suggest that all inner-city Black kids have behavioral problems to the extent you have to give out these contracts, I have a problem with it,” said District 8 School Board Rep. Mark Brentley. “We still have a district that is giving out millions of dollars in contracts to people with no record of success. Any success that they have seen, we can do better at a fraction of the cost.”
In the community, some have criticized the Success Schools model because they say it lack a strong academic component.
“What we want to see is academic excellence in our schools. We do not see that attached to the Success Schools model. We’ve said to the district and to Milliones that we want to see some measurable goals,” said Rev. Johnnie Monroe, co-chair of the Hill District Education Council. “I don’t think we can separate good behavior from academic excellence. Kids cannot learn in a disruptive environment, but we suggested that we look at the models that work in our community. I’ve not seen the model, I’ve not been to Clayton Academy, but what I hear is that the scores are not there.”