The past two years have been a difficult time for Westinghouse 6-12, a restructured Homewood school that spent a brief period as a single-gender academy. The beleaguered school saw four principals in the last four years and several administrative changes since it was reopened as a new school in 2011.
Now, the school will see one more change. On June 17, Alexander Herring, a former principal from Erie, took the helm at Westinghouse.
“The opportunity to change outcomes for students, offering them positive choices that they may not have thought about to be successful, that challenge, the grind, the opportunity to be better was just so overwhelmingly exciting,” Herring said of his decision to pursue the position in an interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier.
In 2012, Westinghouse’s scores on the Pennsylvania System School of Assessment tests were below district averages across the board, according to the most recent A+ School report. In 11th grade math, only 7.5 percent of the students scored proficient or advanced and in 6th grade reading, only 13.6 percent of students scored proficient or advanced.
“There’s hope that we can be better at providing the resources and our supports for our student population so they can be great, and one of the challenges there is to instill that hope in our students,” Herring said of his plans for transforming the school. “We have to instill that pride and discipline in our students. The challenge is going to be for all of us to combine all those resources and put them in the hands of our students for them.”
After growing up in North Carolina, in an area with similar problems to Homewood, Herring said the way the community perceives education is important to student growth.
“Having the opportunity to be in a neighborhood environment that valued education, having a mother who thought education was the only opportunity for us, school was very important to me,” Herring said. “I’d like to give the students at Westinghouse those same kinds of supports and hopefully the outcomes are greater.”
Herring said building an environment where students see the value of education and are given high expectations would be essential to solving Westinghouse’s problems. He said the school’s teachers are paramount in this.
“Under the fundamental principles of teaching and learning, the most important one to me is the teacher,” Herring said. “The teacher matters, the way they present themselves. The whole opportunity for our teachers is there to build a culture of success.”
As part of Herring’s three-year contract, he will also serve as assistant to the superintendent for school transformation. In this position he will also have a role in transformation efforts at other district schools.
“He’s passionate about kids and for me that’s a lot of it right there,” said Superintendent Linda Lane about the decision to hire Herring. “You want someone who’s going to be a strong building manager, you want someone who’s going to help teachers get better and better. You want all of those things. This is the kind of thing he loves and you want people who want to do it.”
Herring’s transformation plan for Westinghouse and the district will target accelerating student achievement and reducing racial disparities. He said input would be included from community partners and stakeholders including students and staff.
Herring holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in school administration from North Carolina Central University. He served as a teacher in North Carolina for several years before he served as principal at Strong Vincent High School in Erie from 2009 to 2012.
Westinghouse’s most recent principal, Shemeca Crenshaw, who was brought in just this past school year, will be taking a position as principal of the district’s Online Learning Academy. Despite praise of her performance, Westinghouse has recently been suffering from high teacher turnover.
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