Saturday, November 29, 2008

Preliminary Budget

The district's Preliminary Budget for the upcoming year can be found at

The public may comment at a special hearing on Tuesday, December 2 at 12:00 PM (registration to speak required by 10:00 AM that day) or at the general monthly public hearing on Monday, December 8 at 7:00 PM (registration to speak require by noon that day).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Community Education Partners (CEP)

At the most recent Board meeting Board member Mark Brentley brought up CEP, mentioning fights at the school and the issue of whether the CEP contract should be terminated next September. He raised the question of whether this service could be handled in-house.

PURE Reform has requested a copy of the CEP contract and performance information. A copy of the contract is to be provided, but the district solicitor is looking into whether the district is required to release performance information.

Aside from questions of whether it is best to concentrate large numbers of disruptive students in a single building there are also issues of cost and whether the $30M+ allocated for this contract could have been put to better use- or, at least, whether public views on whether to take on this large debt should have been sought in advance.

Superintendent's Goals

The School Board voted to approve a set of goals for the Superintendent for the 2008-2009 school year. Prior to the vote Board member Thomas Sumpter noted that these goals were the result of a great deal of work, and that he felt the new goals were a great improvement over those in place previously.

Randall Taylor noted that the goals contain few quantifiable measures for accountability, and suggested that input from the public should be sought on proposed goals before they are approved. Other Board members felt that the public could make suggestions through Board members. However, it does not appear that an announcement was made that the Board was working on this issue or that proposed goals were made available for review. On the website under our district/ superintendent, there is no listing of goals for this year or prior years and a search on the website for "superintendent's goals" brings up nothing.

The Superintendent's contract does contain "Performance Priorities"; it is not clear if the "goals" are updated priorities or if the goals are in addition to the priorities.

There was a suggestion that the goals are a personnel matter. However, to the extent that the goals determine which major initiatives the Superintendent should pursue, they would seem to be more a matter of public policy and less a private personnel matter.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

PVAAS Forum by A + Schools

A+ Schools is holding a forum on the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System (see below and remember to RSVP). If you cannot make the forum, add your questions as a comment and we'll see if we can obtain answers.

For example, it would be interesting to know whether PVAAS provides information relevant to PURE Reform's Featured Topic "Another Look at PSSA Scores 2008"; school specific information that would reveal how particular schools are doing; and how Pittsburgh students are progressing relative to students in the rest of the state. And, if PVAAS does not provide this information- why not?

What is the Value Added at Pittsburgh Public Schools? What is PVAAS anyway?

If you are looking for answers to these questions join us for a PVAAS briefing on Wednesday, December 3, 2008. The meeting will be held from 6PM to 8PM at Pittsburgh University Prep in the Milliones Facility, 3117 Center Avenue in the Hill District.

Jennifer Ross from the PA Department of Education, Dr. Linda Lane, Deputy Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and three PPS Principals, Melissa Friez from Peabody, Derrick Hardy from Vann, and Cindi Muehlbauer from Arlington, will be on hand to lend their perspectives and expertise and answer your questions.

Because we value your time and participation, A+ Schools will provide dinner as well as childcare for children over 1. Please let us know you are coming by calling (412) 258-2660 ext 101 or by clicking HERE.

PVAAS is new information made available in A+ Schools’ 2008 Report to the Community released earlier this month. PVAAS is measure of growth in PSSA achievement produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. PVAAS estimates whether or not selected grade levels made progress no matter where their starting point was. If you haven’t already seen the 2008 Report to the Community you can check it out at Let us know if you would like a hard copy by emailing us at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sports Proposal from Mark Rauterkus

Sports Proposal from Mark Rauterkus:

Hi Fellow PPS Parents!
We have plenty of work to do in terms of getting our kids fit and into great activities after school and with scholastic athletic teams. This is a big area of concern of mine for the past years. Now with the new schools, we've got to step it up a great deal. This is what I think may happen.

The new high school with a working name of Science and Technology to be open in fall of 2009 is going to be in the existing Frick facility in Oakland. The kids there will be able to play sports along with the kids who attend the University Prep school -- now open for grade 9 only. This joint athletic program is done for one or two sports in suburban areas from time to time. But, I've not seen it done for the entire athletic program -- until now. I'm pushing for these schools to have the same colors and mascot(s) -- and I'd love it to be The Zombies. And, most of all, we should try to jump start the parent/ community booster groups for these schools as well.

The kids that are going to be in the I.B. High (IB World) -- are at the Reizenstein facility. They'll need a new school name and mascot. The OLYMPIANs seem to make the most sense, as an outgrowth of the Spartans. I feel that we should let the mascot of The Spartans go to a slumber -- until Schenley H.S. is re-established. What becomes of that school is still unknown (to me).

Furthermore, CAPA is getting middle grades next year and what was Rodgers did have sports opportunities for the kids. Rodgers X-Country already started to wear the design and colors (blue/white) of CAPA. Capa's football team is still undefeated -- giggle. They use the mascot of the invisible rainbow unicorn. Kwel. It might be okay to have CAPA kids team up with the IB High kids for sports that they don't offer at CAPA. And, CAPA needs to get into the flow with a couple of offerings -- x-country, rowing perhaps. In my not so humble opinion, the existing structure with the kids at CAPA playing with their 'home school' is unthinkable.

Furthermore, we've got to get the new programs to compete with the WPIAL and try to re-establish the city league as a great time for holiday tournaments, post-season all-star games and other special events with rivals -- but not a day-in-and-day-out exclusive option. This is going to take a lot of effort and coordination -- as well as political will. If anyone wants to join me in these efforts and advoacy efforts, please contact me with a phone call or email. Other insights welcomed too.

Mark Rauterkus412 298

IB Courses/ Rigor

On the November "Start a New Post" Anonymous wrote:

From an IB 6 - 12 Power Point handout :"Students can take three paths... "Full" Diploma with all exams, Diploma courses with some exams or Only take Diploma courses."

From a Washington Post article:And since the exams are written and graded by outside experts to match college standards, there is no way to dumb down the teaching of the course without being caught, as long as every student takes the exam.

- Since students can just take the courses, is there a danger that the demanding course work will be scaled back?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Public HS Options

On the November "Start a New Post" Annette Werner wrote:

I attended a presentation by Bill Isler today about Pittsburgh Public Schools: Excellence for All.

I raised the question of a family considering a move to Highland Park, Shadyside or other East End neighborhoods outside the Allderdice feeder pattern. Since magnet lotteries are uncertain and a student may try a magnet and change their mind, or (as Kathy Fine asked) simply want a full service comprehensive high school, what is there for these families to fall back on?

Mr. Isler said that at this time students could go to schools like Peabody and Westinghouse and that comprehensive high schools are to be improved at some point through magnet programs. So I guess the fallback for many families would have to be private school.

Will this approach lead to quality public schools and strong neighborhoods in the long run? Maybe- but I would sure like to know that there are places where it has worked before counting on it.

November 23, 2008 1:24 PM

Saturday, November 22, 2008

PPS Plan for a Transit Strike

On the November "Start a New Post" Anonymous wrote:

This morning"s Post-Gazette and the PPS website outline the district's plan for the possibility of a PAT strike. Hopefully, this will not occur, and I do applaud the district for coming up with a plan. But I am concerned about what that plan is- changing the starting time for a number of high schools to 6:30 am! Since studies have shown that high schoolers are barely awake at the regular starting time, how does the district expect them to be able to be ready for school, get to a bus stop, and be awake for class! I would expect to see a greater percentage of students choosing to go or ending up going, to school late or not at all. For those students who may be teetering on the edge of whether to stay in school, this may be the straw that will break the camel's back. Also, I am concerned with the lack of concern for the safety of the students waiting in the dark and the cold at 5:30-6:00 am. It seems that the starting time should be pushed to later in the day, not earlier, or the district should hire more buses, since it will be asking for a reimbursement of the monthly fees from PAT. Hopefully, parents of the students of affected schools will register their protest to the district.

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at November 22, 2008 10:55 AM

Excellence for All Steering Committee Meeting

A PURE Reform report of the Excellence for All steering committee meeting held on November 20, 2008 is available on the announcements tab of; go to this listing under Past Events and click on "PURE Reform Report of Event."

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hey all you blog readers

We have a lot more readers than commenters. It will be more interesting if everyone shares their views, at least occasionally.  Go ahead, try it, we promise it doesn't hurt at all!


A rumor has surfaced that PURE Reform is hoping to remove the Superintendent.

This idea seems too silly and paranoid for anyone to take seriously- but just in case, we would like to confirm that removal of the Superintendent has never been a topic of any PURE Reform meeting or communication. We are focused on transparency, public input and issues, not personalities.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Middle School Disciplinary Issues

In his blog, Mark Rauterkus discusses a City Paper article on middle school disciplinary issues.

EDUCATION: MIDDLE SCHOOL DISCIPLINARY PROBLEMS SPIKE (News)By: Chris Young - November 20, 2008A drastic one-year increase in disciplinary problems in Pittsburgh's middle schools has some education experts wondering whether public school officials should be teaching the district's code of conduct along


Where do you begin with this quagmire?Once upon a time, there was talk that next year was to be the year for "discipline." That was to be the year-long focus. Then that year came and passed and not much changed -- except a lot of new schools were hatched and other priorities trumped the notion of "discipline" being the top worry.To be certain, discipline is a hard thing to witness and see. It isn't as obvious as test scores nor new windows that won't open because they've been screwed shut. Discipline is hard to witness from the outside, most of all. Those that are in the schools can see it. But those who are 'educational advocates' or on nonprofit boards have to be lucky to hear what's what.Be safe. Push where you can. Pull when it makes sense. Get others out of their comfort zones and into positive acts of growth and learning.

PPS Preliminary Budget 2009

The preliminary PPS budget for 2009 is $526.3M.

This is larger than the budget for the entire city of Pittsburgh. The news article reports significant increases in the amount spent on charter schools ($35.8M, up from $27.7M in 2008) and transportation costs ($23.9M up from $20.9M in 2008). With fuel costs apparently lower in 2009 and enrollment down, a question is whether school closings are resulting in greater transportation costs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Public Hearing

Copies of testimony by two PURE Reform steering committee members at this months PPS Public Hearing can be found on the Announcements page- go to the announcement for the November 17, 2008 Public Hearing and click on PURE Reform Report.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Schenley HS Added to "Endangered List"

Preservation Pennsylvania has added the Schenley HS building to its list of endangered historic resources.

A sobering look at PPS Performance

From an article in last week's Tribune:

"The Costs of Pittsburgh's School Failures"

"...a very large fraction of graduates who are able to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program will be ill-prepared for post-secondary education and will probably require heavy remediation if they enroll in college -- adding to the enormous cost already incurred getting them through 13 years of public education in Pittsburgh.

Neither the students nor taxpayers can be benefiting much from such a system."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maintaining Standards

On the November "Start a New Post," Anonymous wrote:

Two bits of information I found alarming:1)As per the BOE website...If an assignment is not turned in it still receives a grade of 50% and,2) Some teachers have been directed to assign less homework because the students who are not turning in the work are ruining the Board's statistics for improvement.WHAT ARE WE TEACHING THE STUDENTS!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Addendum to 3 Year Review Available

PURE Reform's addendum to the 3 Year Review, covering August 2008 to date, is now available. To read the Addendum, go to the end of the 3 Year Review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pittsburgh Promise- New Information

A post last month involved whether a college or other post-secondary school might reduce scholarship funds the college might otherwise have offered, to take into account the availability of the Pittsburgh Promise.

At today's Pittsburgh Promise informational meeting at University Prep, the director of the Promise indicated that this type of offset is a real possibility and an issue that the Promise cannot fully control. However, Promise officials will be meeting with various post-secondary directors next week to discuss this issue. At a minimum, the goal is that Promise funds do not essentially go to benefit universities.

A full summary of the meeting will be posted shortly on the PURE Reform announcements page (below the announcement of today's meeting).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Final Draft Strategic Plan"

Mark Rauterkus' blog notes thatthere is a Final Draft of the Strategic Plan, but recommends another round of public comment and revision.


Validity of Standardized State Test Scores

Based on this article from last week's New York Times it appears that in today's high stakes, high pressure testing environment, improved proctoring and monitoring of standardized state tests may be necessary- to protect teachers and principals as well as students.

"School's Success Gives Way to Doubt"
(the 80 reader comments on the article are also interesting).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Reflections

Election Day 2008 appears at least in part to be a decisive rejection of the current Presidential administration, which has been characterized by an emphasis on spin over substance as well as an overall lack of transparency.

The expectation of greater openness will extend to all levels of government, including the administration of our schools and other local bodies.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

High School Size/ Choice

With the recent emphasis on "themed" schools, another type of high school choice may be overlooked: school size.

While a small school may be best for some, for others a large school (750+ in grades 9 - 12) with a full range of activities, sports and electives and a large pool of classmates may be best.

Just as the Strategic Plan includes a K - 8 school near each student, consideration should be given to making a reasonably convenient, full service 9 - 12 high school available for all students. This arrangement would provide true "choice."

Start a New Post

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