Friday, April 10, 2015

School-board candidate Moira Kaleida says district needs more innovation

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 2:46 PM

For District 6 school-board candidate Moira Kaleida, the decision to run in the upcoming May primary election was personal. Kaleida is a Pittsburgh Public Schools graduate and this year was her daughter's first year in the district.

"We have a long time ahead of us," says Kaleida. "I think it's worth investing time and a commitment into it, since we have a long road ahead of us with the school district."

The stay-at-home mom, who was endorsed by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Allegheny Democratic Committee, has a degree in secondary social studies and citizenship education from Penn State. She also serves on the board of directors of the International Cesarean Awareness Network and Brew on Broadway, a nonprofit coffee house.

"I think my background in education definitely gives me a leg up as far as understanding things from an inside level, as well as what I know from being a parent," explains Kaleida.

In addition to expanding opportunities for early childhood education and lobbying Harrisburg for a fair funding formula that would ensure moneys for the neediest schools, Kaleida says she'd like to see the district be more innovative.

"I think we need to focus on innovation in our district," Kaleida says. "What ideas do we have to make the district a district of first choice?"

Kaleida says one example of a district misstep was passing on City High Charter School. According to Kaleida, City High, a technology-focused 9-12 in Downtown Pittsburgh, was originally pitched as a public school, but the district turned it down.

"Now, they have one of the best charter programs in the city and that could have been a district school," says Kaleida. "When you miss out on innovative ideas, it hurts your district. You have to have a board that's going to look at all the options."

Conversely, Kaleida points to the board's recent decisions surrounding Woolslair PreK-5 as an example of embracing innovation. The board recently approved a science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) curriculum at Woolslair, which was in danger of being closed due to low enrollment. 

"I was not a fan of all the school closures. I don't think you educate more kids by closing schools," Kaleida says. "I think Woolslair was a good example. I think that was a good move on the board's part, keeping it open and providing an innovative new curriculum. That's what we need to be doing all over."

Kaleida will face Samuel Hurst and Tracy Link in the upcoming election. 

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pittsburgh Public Schools board candidate Lynda Wrenn commits to closing opportunity gap

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 2:56 PM

District 4 school-board candidate Lynda Wrenn says Pittsburgh Public Schools has an equity problem. If that problem continues, she says, it could hurt more than just the students and families in "bad schools," and damage the district's reputation as a whole. 

"My kids are at Allderdice, and Allderdice is considered a 'good school,' but I know all schools in the district don't have the same advantages that Allderdice does," says Wrenn. "I'd like to take those more challenged schools, see what they need, and make them more desirable for families."

District 4 school board candidate Lynda Wrenn
  • District 4 school board candidate Lynda Wrenn
This goal was one of the motivations behind her decision to run for election in the upcoming May primary. 

"I've been a longtime Pittsburgh Public Schools parent and I feel all kids deserve a quality education, regardless of whether they're in a 'good school' or not," says Wrenn. "I think all the schools should be good for the kids of our city." 

The mother of four holds a master's degree in education from Chatham University, and has served on the district's gifted-education task force and the task force for the Summer Dreamer Academy.

"I do have an educational background which helps when you're trying to make decisions about curriculum or the best way children learn and where to put resources," says Wrenn. "I have the perspective of actually being in the schools and seeing what the challenges are."

She did her student teaching at Springhill Elementary in the North Side and later went on to do work with several district middle schools for a research study on childhood obesity. She also volunteered in kindergarten classrooms.

"As someone who's been involved in the Pittsburgh Public Schools for so long, I've seen a lot of things come and go. I've seen a lot of changes over 15 years. I think that gives me a lot of perspective."

Wrenn says one component of closing the opportunity gap between students is setting the bar higher. During her time on the gifted task force, she worked to give more students who were not in the gifted program the opportunity to take higher-level classes. 

"At Brashear, the number of children taking [advance placement] courses over the past five years has increased four-fold," Wrenn says. "When you challenge kids and they rise to the occasion, it builds their self-confidence and it does help them believe they can achieve."

According to Wrenn, closing the gap, especially as it relates to college attainment, also involves helping students with parents who did not go to college. She says she'd advocate for more resources for guidance counselors and social workers in schools.

"I think a lot of times when I talk to kids, they don't see college as an option," Wrenn says. "Their parents haven't been through the process before and it's hard for kids to navigate."

In order to bring more resources to the district, Wrenn says she would advocate for a fair-funding formula to ensure "schools that need more are getting more."

Wrenn is running for the seat of board veteran William Isler who is not seeking reelection. She received the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement over her opponent Kirk Burkley. Schools in the district include Allderdice, Colfax K-8 and Linden K-5. 

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Pittsburgh teachers union endorses school board candidates

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 4:10 PM

Today, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Local 400 announced its endorsements for the upcoming May primary school-board election. 

Four seats are up for grabs and three incumbent school directors — Mark Brentley, Sherry Hazuda and Bill Isler — have all announced they will not run for re-election. District 2 Rep. Regina Holley is so far running unopposed. 

In its announcement today, the PFT endorsed Holley, along with District 4 challenger Lynda Wrenn, Moira Kalieda in District 6 and Kevin Carter in District 8.  

“School-board elections are always important for our city, but that is especially true this year. The incoming school board will be responsible for recruiting the next superintendent and planning the direction of the district for the next few years,” PFT 400 President Nina Esposito-Visgitis said in a statement. “We believe Regina Holley, Lynda Wrenn, Moira Kaleida and Kevin Carter are the school-board candidates that understand what our students and our schools need to succeed.”

The union was especially complimentary of Kaleida, a Beechview resident and committee member with the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. 

“PFT 400 has more members that live in District 6 than in any other district in the city of Pittsburgh. As someone who teaches and lives in District 6, I am proud to announce the endorsement of Moira Kaleida for school board,” said PFT 400 Political Action Committee Chair Jeremiah Dugan. “Moira Kaleida understands the issues facing the 10 schools in District 6 and schools across the city of Pittsburgh. Moira Kaleida is a strong supporter of community schools, and as a public-school parent, she has the passion needed to be an effective school-board member.”

Also running are Kirk Burkley for District 4, Tracy Link for District 6 and Patricia Rogers for District 8.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pittsburgh Public Schools improve multilingual communications

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 4:05 PM

Visitors to the Pittsburgh Public School District's website have probably noticed something different during the past month. Since mid-January, the school district has been posting weather related closing and delay announcements in several different languages on a banner on their homepage. 

"We’ve been using the slides [since] mid- to late-January to better serve our website viewers," says Ebony Pugh, district spokesperson.

Updates to the website and a new multilingual parent hotline are beneficial for families who do not speak English. Amie Matson, a program manager with education advocacy group A+ Schools, has been working with a group of Latino parents to improve communication with the district.

"The updates ... are extremely helpful for English Language Learner families because it provides them with the ability to stay up to date on time sensitive material in easily accessible manners," says Matson. "The multilingual website and hotline help to eliminate the confusion and disconnect many ELL families were experiencing before."

Of the 25,900 students in the district, there are approximately 850 English as a Second Language (ESL) students enrolled.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

A+ Schools Report: UPrep Westinghouse lag behind

Posted By on Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 4:54 PM

Higher graduation rates. Greater enrollment in advanced placement courses. Today education watchdog group A+ Schools released their annual report to the community, highlighting achievement growth at local public schools.

But in addition to the positive stories emerging from the report, two schools continue to hit sour notes. Of the Pittsburgh Public School District's five 6-12 schools, Westinghouse Academy and Milliones University Preparatory School consistently rank at the bottom.

"It's heartbreaking," Hill House President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell says of UPrep. "I'm concerned with the trajectory of that school. There are schools in other challenged neighborhoods around the city. Why this school is struggling more, I'm not sure."

At UPrep, a school with a "post-secondary focus" according to the report, only 34 percent of students are eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship for post-secondary education. And according to survey responses from 2013 only 29 percent of students were attending college or a trade school.

"It's certainly disturbing, but not shocking unfortunately," says community activist Tim Stevens who mentors students at UPrep. "It's a long-range issue. These are long-term deep-rooted problems."

For Westinghouse, the data is worse. Only 20 percent of students were eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise and only 22 percent were attending college or a trade school. Conversely, CAPA, a creative and performing arts school, boasts an 89 percent rate for Pittsburgh Promise eligibility and 80 percent of students were attending college or a trade school.

"There is some progress but it's just too slow. We're losing too many kids. Too many kids are dying. Too many kids are not Promise eligible," says Wanda Henderson, a member of the district's equity advisory panel. "Westinghouse has seen too much uncertainty. There needs to be some stability."

Another way the report measures success is through the algebra milestone, looking at how many students are taking algebra in 8th grade.

"The algebra milestone is very important," Superintendent Linda Lane said in her remarks at the press conference. "If you think it's only for people going to college it isn't. There are many many technical fields, very highly compensated technical fields that require higher math."

But at UPrep and Westinghouse none of the 8th grade students took algebra in the 2013-2014 school year. At CAPA 73 of the 111 8th graders took algebra. At Obama all 8th graders took algebra and at Science and Technology Academy 20 of the 55 students took algebra.

In other areas, UPrep and Westinghouse lag behind their peers to a smaller degree. Westinghouse had an 83 percent graduation rate while UPrep's is 79 percent. At CAPA, Obama and Sci-Tech, the rates are 97, 85 and 93 percent respectively.

"I'm not trying to make the case that there's been phenomenal growth," said Lane. "But nevertheless it took a lot of hard work to get there. We have to recognize the work people did to get the results we did."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fresh Start PA challenges Gov. Corbett on education issues

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 3:34 PM

At a press conference this morning hosted by the Campaign for a Fresh Start, chairwoman Katie McGinty challenged Gov. Tom Corbett on cuts to education funding during his tenure and the recent scandal surrounding his former special adviser on higher education Ron Tomalis. Taken together, said McGinty, those two issues have created a burden for Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Tomalis announced he would step down last week after Democrats, seizing on a Post-Gazette story, began questioning what exactly Tomalis was doing to merit being paid a $139,542 salary. McGinty said the governor has been unable and unwilling to provide details regarding Tomalis' work. And while Tomalis, a former Corbett education secretary, agreed to step down, his work as an adviser reportedly will boost his state pension.

"Mr. Tomalis is costing the taxpayer a huge price," McGinty said. "So latest count he's taken out about $200,000 of the public's limited resources. And now we know that the governor has seen fit to enable Mr. Tomalis to have a 25 percent boost in his pension as well. This is a huge cost burden to tax payers."

McGinty, whose group is backing gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf and other Democratic candidates, also criticized education funding cuts that have taken place during Corbett's term. According to McGinty, 77 percent of Pennsylvania school districts will have to raise property taxes as a result of decreased funding.

Pittsburgh teachers union President Nina Esposito-Visgitis explained the impact funding cuts are having on the Pittsburgh Public School District.

"Here in Pittsburgh. where Gov. Corbett's cuts have cost our public schools over $27 million in state revenue, our teachers have been demoralized as they've been made to watch their students — many times the neediest students of all — lose valuable services and programs that our teachers know their students need to succeed," said Esposito-Visgitis.

Corbett has been dogged by the education-funding issue throughout his campaign. His administration maintains that funding reductions were prompted by a reduction in federal support.

"Over the last four years, our administration has increased the state’s investment in our public schools by $1.46 billion to now historic levels," said Corbett's lieutenant governor Jim Cawley in a July 29 press release. "It’s shameful that the teachers’ union bosses continually perpetuate a lie to put their own interests over those of the students and teachers they serve."

Education funding by the state has increased in recent years, though not nearly enough to keep pace with the decline in federal support. And critics say that Corbett takes the blame, in part by refusing to impose a state severance tax on natural-gas drilling. At this morning's press conference, for example, was Lisa Stout-Bashioum, a current school board representative in the Brentworth School District running for a seat in the state House. She said Gov. Corbett could restore funding for education by imposing a tax on natural gas companies.

"In Allegheny and Washington counties, Tom Corbett has taken more than $60 million from our students since he was elected," Stout-Bashioum said. "Tom Corbett won't tax drillers even a little bit to help our children succeed. Why? Because children aren't donors."

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Federal government announces early learning grant competition in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 12:29 PM

On Aug. 13, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Hug Me Tight Child Life Center in the Hill District to announce a $250 million preschool development grant competition for early childhood education.

"We're working as hard as we can to expand access to high quality early learning opportunities," Duncan said. "Seeing the opportunities that kids have at a place like this is pretty remarkable."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan works with a student at Hug Me Tight
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan works with a student at Hug Me Tight

According to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, half of the city's children up to age five don't have access to high-quality early learning opportunities like those offered by Hug Me Tight Daycare.

The preschool development grant can be used to provide early education opportunities for children from birth to 5 years old. The funds can be used to expand or create programs like early home visiting programs, where outreach workers provide parents with information on how to begin educating newborns and toddlers, or early head start programs like the one at Hug Me Tight Daycare.

"I honestly think it’s the most important investment we can make," said Duncan. "If they start a year or two behind, too often they can never catch up."

Duncan said studies have shown that society saves $7 for every $1 invested in early childhood education. These findings come from a study of children enrolled in an early childhood education center in Chicago.

"The U.S. relative to other industrialized nations ranks about 25th for spending on early childhood education," Duncan says. "Our children and our families deserve better."

The application process will be a joint effort between the mayor's office, the Pittsburgh Public School District, and local nonprofits. If Pittsburgh is selected funds can be distributed to a variety of sources including the school district, nonprofits, and community organizations like the YMCA or churches.

"Pittsburgh Public Schools has been working long and hard in this area of early childhood education and this opportunity to expand what we're doing is fabulous," said PPS Superintendent Linda Lane.

Applications for the grant are due by Oct. 14 and awards will be made in December 2014.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

PPS panel recommends denial of three charter schools

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 12:15 PM

From 2008 to 2013, only two charter school applications have been approved by the Pittsburgh Public School District out of 15 proposed. On Feb. 2 at a PPS education committee meeting, the district’s charter school review teams recommended the denial of an additional three charter applications.

If the PPS board of directors follows these recommendations, which they have historically done, the district would have an 11 percent approval rate for charter schools over the past five years. The board will vote on the charter schools at a legislative meeting on Feb. 26.

According to a release from the district, the three applications for Homewood Children’s Village Collegiate Charter School, Provident Charter School for Children with Dyslexia, and Robert L. Vann Charter School should be denied because they lack curriculum or a plan for meeting the needs of all students, and do not provide expanded educational options beyond those available in the district

A more detailed description of the recommendations, from the district's press release, can be found after the jump:

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Monday, January 27, 2014

State to audit Pittsburgh Public Schools

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Starting next month, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale will begin an audit of the Pittsburgh Public School District. At a Jan. 27 press conference, DePasquale said the audit is meant to help the district avoid a pending financial crisis and improve academic performance.

“Our audit will provide a road map for how we fix those problems,” DePasquale said. “We have to come up with a plan.”

The district is facing a $46.3 million budget deficit in 2016. The audit will look at factors ranging from what the district spends its money on, the impact of charter schools on the district’s budget and enrollment, and even student test scores.

“This is not about casting blame for past decisions,” DePasquale said. “This is not about throwing stones.”

However, DePasquale did highlight how state funding decisions have impacted the district. He said a decrease in state funding for education and elimination of charter tuition reimbursement for Pennsylvania school districts have contributed to the district’s looming budget deficit.

“Urban education in poor districts has taken a hit in state budgets,” DePasquale said. “There is a state responsibility that in my view is not being met."

The announcement was made in collaboration with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. While the mayor has no direct control over the school district, he said he hopes to serve as a mediator between district administrators, the teachers union, and foundations as they are faced with difficult decisions in the coming years.

“We’re facing a couple years of uncertainty,” Peduto said. “What we need is good information to make good decisions.”

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Local students weigh in on Hazelwood development

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 1:02 PM

What would Hazelwood’s 178-acre brown field look like if it were developed by teenage students from one of Pittsburgh’s private schools?

Hazelwood’s community leaders and stakeholders got the answer when they visited Winchester Thurston on Jan. 22. As part of their class on urban research and design, three groups of senior students presented different development plans for the former steel site.

  • Almono

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