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Roosevelt asks to delay school district restructuring

An update on changes covered in our Jan. 31 cover story "Class Dismissed."

As presses were rolling on City Paper's Jan. 30 issue -- whose cover story details plans for Schenley High School and other schools throughout the district -- district administrators announced plans to delay implementation of their proposals.

Originally, school board members were expected to vote on Schenley's fate, and that of its students, on Feb 27. While the school board is still slated to vote on plans to take students out of the asbestos-riddled building, at a Jan. 29 board workshop, Superintendent Mark Roosevelt put his plans for the building on hold, in order to more fully evaluate options for the historic structure. Also put on a slower track for the time being: plans to restructure middle and elementary schools in the Hill District, and to create controversial consolidated high schools housing grades 6-12.

“By February, we won’t feel that every option [for Schenley] has been explored,” Roosevelt told board members.

Still, he added, exploring doesn’t mean restoring. “I don’t want to mislead people or give false hopes,” he said. “We’re not saying that Schenley will be remediated. We think [Schenley] merits a couple of more months of evaluations.” And as for reassigning Schenley’s students, “We absolutely cannot wait any longer,” he added.

Pittsburgh school officials have been discussing reforms since November, but praised the delay.

"Delaying the vote is us hearing the voices of the community," said school board member Heather Arnet.

Roosevelt’s recommendations for Schenley’s current population have not changed. Students currently in grades 9-11 will still move to the Reizenstein building in East Liberty next year, where they will eventually graduate with Schenley diplomas.

The bulk of Roosevelt’s other changes are centered in the Hill District, in an attempt to ease students into the new "university-partnership" school at the former Milliones Middle School, as well as postpone significant changes for two of the neighborhood’s K-8 schools, Miller and Vann.

Previously, the district planned to open the "university-partnership" school with grades 6-9 next year, incorporating Schenley’s mainstream population with students from Miller and Vann middle schools. While the goal is still to create a 6-12 school in the Milliones building, the process will be rolled out more slowly. Roosevelt is now seeking only to put next year’s freshman class into the building. Miller, which under previous plans was expected to become a K-5 next year, is planned to remain a K-8 until the start of the 2009-10 school year. The 6-8 students will then move to Milliones, and Miller will revert to a K-5.

As for Vann, which was previously slated to close next year, Roosevelt is now recommending it remain K-8 until the 2009-10 school year. After that, its 6-8-grade students will be able to choose to move to either Milliones or to Weil, another Hill District K-8. Vann’s elementary-level students can also choose between Miller or Weil.

Roosevelt's new recommendations are much the same as his original proposals; for the most part, only the timetable has changed. But some board members seemed happy that the district is looking to slow down the pace of its reforms.

"I like this plan a lot better," said board member Sherry Hazuda. "I like the idea of the gradual change."