The Pittsburgh Public School’s State of the District 2012 event on Nov. 15 gave the public an update on the district in the areas of achievement, effectiveness, equity and satisfaction. However, it also provided a unique environment for parents, teachers, education scholars and administrators to have an honest conversation about the district’s progress and direction.
Following a live interview between PPS Superintendent Linda Lane and KDKA-TV personality Lynn Hayes-Freeland, the audience heard from a panel comprised of a teacher, a parent, a scholar and a nonprofit director. The panelists addressed issues and answered questions from the audience and those watching at home about parent engagement in schools and how to educate all students regardless of race or socio-economic status.
“All the research shows the children who are most likely to succeed are the ones with strong parental support,” said Pedro Noguera, an education scholar hired by the district. “We really have to lay a strong foundation both in schools and at home to see the results we’re hoping for.”
The panelists grappled over whether increased parental engagement of teacher effectiveness would have a greater role in improving student achievement. However, Lane, who earlier in her presentation said teachers are the number one school based factor for improving students results, said the district as a whole is responsible for student achievement.
“Whether we get (increased parent engagement) or not, we still have a responsibility to educate children,” Lane said. “There are parents in the city who are dealing with circumstance that if I had to deal with it, I don’t know how I would do it.”
The event re-emphasized the district’s focus on the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship and a specific goal of 80 percent college completion of workforce certification. However, when less than 50 percent of African-American males are graduating, what impact does the Pittsburgh Promise have on the Black community?
“I’m deeply concerned about the district’s most recent achievement data, especially for Black students,” said Pam Little Poole, mother of three African-American boys. “For many Black male students the ‘Promise’ unfortunately goes unfulfilled. While I’m frustrated with the pace of change in the district, especially for Black males, there is progress being made.”
However, according to data from Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril, who also sat on the panel, African-American female students are the second largest group benefiting from the Promise. And while Ghubril said the Promise has encouraged academic growth in at-risk Black males, he said greater improvement needs to be made.
“Even if our graduation rates were 85 percent, how many parents would be content if their child was in the 15 percent,” Ghubril said.
Absent from the panel were members of the school board, the policy-making body of the district. However, most of the school board representatives were in attendance to watch the presentation.
“We’re so lucky to have Linda Lane as our Superintendent because she’s the right person at the right time to fix the Pittsburgh Public School District,” said Board President Sherry Hazuda.
Following the presentations, several board members provided comments on the recently released A+ Schools report, which revealed an increase in the racial achievement gap based on the most recent scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.
“Was I surprised? No, because I had seen the PSSA scores,” said Sharene Shealey, District 1 representative. “I was disappointed.”
“The A+ report is a description of existing conditions. It’s important to have everyone working together and doing what we can in spite of budget cuts,” said Thomas Sumpter, District 3 representative. “Things happen, you can’t explain them, but the point is to put things in place that will make a difference for the long haul. We might have a dip here and there.”
Shealey complimented the State of the District event and the diversity of the panelists, saying they each demonstrated things the district needs to work on. However, District 8 Representative Mark Brentley said he wished the district would’ve presented a concrete plan for improving achievement.
“The State of the District was somewhat disappointing, mainly because I sat there waiting for a plan and I didn’t hear that. I was also disappointed because we as a board weren’t consulted. At some point we have to bite the bullet and we have to come clean to the community about our financial status,” Brentley said. “We didn’t walk away with anything new; we didn’t get any marching orders.”