Fast Talk at Schenley High | Revelations | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Fast Talk at Schenley High

Why the big hurry to close down a beloved school?


Saving Schenley High School is as much about preserving our future as it is about preserving our past. Given that this asbestos-ridden structure is an historic landmark, it cannot be demolished. So will it simply be abandoned, along with the hopes and dreams of students, parents and teachers?

Renovating Schenley would cost $64 million, the district says. But it would be worth the money. It would be an investment in our children's future, our city's diversity, and the belief that sharing multifaceted intellectual resources benefits everyone.

Schenley is known not only for being a successful high school, but also for being a place where racial and class diversity works -- perhaps better than anywhere else in this "most livable city."

Schenley has also been known for its International Baccalaureate and excellent performing-arts programs -- not least because of stage productions led by "Mr. B," Roger Babusci. Mr. B retired last year, but we are in desperate need of him today, because it appears superintendent Mark Roosevelt, and the school board members backing him, have not been adequately using their imaginations.

We know that "mixed-income housing" works well for society. Yet it appears as though Roosevelt and a majority of the board are ready to further isolate students who live in poverty. The school district's plan involves shuffling some 500 Schenley students -- those who participate in the IB program -- to the currently empty Reizenstein Middle School, in East Liberty, where they will join students currently enrolled in a middle-school international-studies magnet program. Some 400 other Schenley students, most of whom are black, will be shunted to Milliones Middle School, in the Hill District.

The move has obvious racial and economic overtones. Indeed, all three of the black school-board members appear to oppose this plan.

Closing Schenley will also be the first step in Roosevelt's plan to combine middle and high schools, creating schools housing students in grades 6 through 12 under one roof.

I want you to use your imagination. Imagine what it would be like for your 11-year-old daughter to go to school with 17-year-old boys. I want you to picture her and her friends dolled up in pigtails, beaded braids and swinging ponytails -- as they walk down the hall past teenagers whose brains and blazing hormones have been inundated with glamorized notions of "pimping" in a youth-obsessed society. Teenagers so pumped up on and misled by violent video games and music that they've become both predator and prey.

And I want you to imagine that sick feeling you'll get when that call comes in from school -- or perhaps even worse, when you look at your child and wonder why something seems "different" about her.

We're not in the position to handle this mixture of children at this age -- certainly not with the extreme divisions of race and economics in this city. Talk about sitting on a powder keg! Besides, research has shown that robbing middle-school kids of their unique experience is simply a bad idea.

This is not just about saving Schenley High School. Losing Schenley would be simply the first domino in creating schools for grades 6-12, which some of us are calling a pending nightmare.

There are too many questions here. The plans are too vague. (What will happen to the Schenley building itself? I have neither seen nor heard any actual plans for what to do with it if it's abandoned.) Too many facts are unknown. And folks are getting suspicious because Roosevelt is moving way too fast. History teaches us that when you implement this type of sweeping reform without enough public input, it's almost always a disaster.

What lies underneath the actions of the school-board members who support this plan? Why would they decide to close a beloved school in the city's cultural center, one that stands as a testament to achievements not yet replicated across the city? The first thing the public needs to demand is that this process be stopped, so we have a chance to be presented with more facts and plans for reform.

Dr. Goddess Says: Speak up now before you fail this test.

Comments (0)
Comments are closed.