Saturday, November 22, 2008

University Prep

Annette Werner said...

I knew little about University Prep except that the University of Pittsburgh is somehow involved, and so I visited the school's open house yesterday. It seems likely that this school will be very successful.

The school features the following:

A dedicated counselor is scheduled to meet with each student at least once a year to discuss college plans (so for example students will receive guidance in 9th grade or earlier).

A one million dollar grant will allow students to start visiting colleges as early as 9th grade, and families can become involved in the process through a special family education plan.

Another grant will allow each student to receive a laptop computer.

The University of Pittsburgh in not only sending professors to teach some classes, but is also working on professional development.

The school offers French currently, will soon offer Spanish, and hopes to become the first PPS to offer Latin.

Students reading below grade level are enrolled in special "Read 180" programming to bring them up to grade level.

An emphasis on goal setting, achievement, critical thinking and teamwork is apparent.

The principal seems to be enthusiastic, thoughtful and innovative and students and teachers seem to be happy and involved.

Since PURE promises not to gloss over the hard questions, we do need to ask whether it will be possible to provide this level of resources and attention across the board so that the school can truly be a model for other Pittsburgh public schools. And, while entry in 6th grade rather than 9th grade is said to be a major benefit of 6-12 schools, only half the students will enter at the 6th grade level.

November 22, 2008 1:43 AM


PPSparent said...

Once a year? A year?! I guess that's more than the none my child has gotten. But still, once a year is really nothing. Monthly talks with a guidance counselor about CURRENT academics would seem to be more useful and to get students to the point where they'd have a range of colleges to consider. Students need to have someone with whom they have a relationship, not a once a year appointment.

I agree that other parts sound good -- most of these plans do sound great. But the problem is always in the implementation. Like next year when they go from 1 grade of students in a school to 5 grades. That's when they'll find out if what they're doing can be scaled up quickly and effectively.

Annette Werner said...

I think the idea is that the yearly meeting is the "formal" meeting and that the counselor, like the other teachers, knows all of the students by name and has frequent informal discussions throughout the year. There are college banners over all the doorways, etc. to spark discussion. Definitely leagues ahead of any counseling I've seen before.

A few additional things I learned- 60% of students are "feeder pattern" students and 40% are from other areas. Students are to join w/ the sci tech school for sports and activities (strangely, basketball does not seem to be listed as one of the sports in the school handbook, link below). There are uniforms for 6 - 8, while 9 - 12 dress in "business casual."

Anonymous said...

How does the building compare to the Schenley building, that the students would have gone to if the district had decided to combine University Prep and the IB program under one roof- where sports and other programs could have been shared? I haven't been in the old Herron Hill Junior High- Milliones Middle School building. Does it feel like a high school? Is there a real auditorium? Are there windows that let in natural light? I know that when I visit the Reizenstein facility, I can hear the teacher from the adjoining classroom, almost as loudly as the one in the actual room. I have visited windowless, depressing rooms, and experienced an unsettling feeling of being in a maze, when trying to navigate the halls- not at all like a school, and certainly not conducive to an optimum learning environment.

annette werner said...

The U Prep (former Milliones building) like Reizenstein had open classrooms and so quite a bit of renovation has been necessary.

The middle school wing, which also contains the auditorium, is closed off for work. In the section the 9th grade is using many classrooms have at least one window, but the building simply was not designed to let in "abundant natural light," and due to the scale of the building it seems difficult to remove entirely the feeling of a middle school building.

Admittedly I am partial to the Schenley building, but I can't help but think about how a renovated Schenley could have sent the message that this is a top-notch program. It would also have helped attract widespread community support and facilitated joint activities and sports with the sci tech school.

Of course cost is an issue but the decision may have benefited from additional thought and analysis. For example, 3/4 of the Schenley building at a reduced cost of about $60M (further reduced to about $50M by PlanCon) could likely have allowed 150 students in all grades 6 - 12. Also avoided would have been the costs of transforming Milliones to a high school and the foreseeable future costs of renovations to other schools on the Hill. The costs and benefits of other permutations such as IB middle school and U Prep middle school at Milliones and IB high school and U Prep high school at Schenley also do not seem to have been presented in any detail.

Finally, the Milliones building is tucked away up on a hill. A flagship building in a central location would keep this promising program in sight and in minds even when district attention turns to other projects.

Anonymous said...

Wow, in retrospect