At the first of seven public hearings hosted by the Pittsburgh Public School District, parents and community members were given the opportunity to express concerns over the district’s recently announced realignment plan. Under the new plan, the district would close seven schools including Oliver and Langley High Schools.

If approved the plan would see the closure of Fort Pitt PreK-5, Murray K-8, Northview PreK-8, Schaeffer K-8, and Stevens K-8, in addition to Oliver and Langley. The earliest the board would vote on the proposal is Nov. 22.

ERICA GRINAGE (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“I understand the district is having financial problems, but closing (Oliver) and sending these kids to a school where they have no rapport with the teachers isn’t a good solution,” said DeShauna Ponton, a concerned parent. “The faculty and the administrators are doing a fantastic job of turning the image of the school around. The kids respect them for that. But closing Oliver and sending these kids to other schools is going to undo all that hard work.”

Unfortunately, Ponton, whose son is an Oliver graduate attending the Community College of Allegheny County, was in the minority of parents speaking out against the district’s proposal on Aug. 22. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the parents present at the meeting were there to challenge the district’s elimination of afterschool transportation to the Jewish Community Center.

Of the 23 speakers scheduled between the special hearing designated for the district’s realignment plan and the regular public hearing, only seven were there to talk about school closings and only half of those were there to represent parents.

“There wasn’t enough time to organize the parents. There are a number of groups that are going to be organizing parents. We’re going to be making sure parents’ voices are heard,” Ponton said. “My son would not be a college student today without Oliver. I live in the community and even though I don’t have any children at Oliver any longer, Oliver is still part of my community.”

All of the speakers there to challenge the district’s realignment plan came from the North Side. While they highlighted the importance of neighborhood schools in community development, they also highlighted Oliver’s strengths such as their culinary and ROTC programs.

“My main concern would be the relocation of the Army ROTC there. Ever since its inception its’ been a stellar program for the community and the students there,” said 28-year-old Charles Rogers, an Oliver Graduate who has risen to the level of first lieutenant with the army. “That program has been an asset. I’d hate to see that program disappear. I don’t know where I’d be without that program.”

Other speakers attended the public hearing to voice concerns with the district’s athletic program. Specifically they expressed disproval of the district’s change to the GPA requirement for athletic participation.

“We’re trying to encourage kids to raise the bar and while we’re trying to raise the bar, you’re lowering the GPA to 1.5,” said 17-year-old Nigel Ash who was also there to promote his group Kid Nation’s Honor Roll Tour, which rewards students for their achievement in schools around the country. “When it comes to kids, we need to be inspired. Lowering it to 1.5, it’s really cheating the kids.”

In addition to changes to the district’s athletics GPA requirement, the district’s athletic program is in the midst of combining several schools into new athletic teams. While Erica Grinage, a mother with children in the district, touched on the district’s GPA requirement change, she was more concerned with the merger of athletic programs at Milliones University Preparatory School, Obama Academy and Science and Technology Academy.

“I’m not going to tell my son you lowered it to a 1.5. I told him he has to have a 3.0 so please don’t tell him it’s a 1.5,” Grinage said. “My son’s team, they said they weren’t prepared for the kids to play, well you’d think if they’re going to merge three schools, they would’ve been prepared. I support the district. Please support my son.”

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