Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The District works for the taxpayers

On the September "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

Last night, the Jefferson Hills School District suspended its superintendent for attempting to preclude the hiring of a well respected and well qualified teacher in one of the Thomas Jefferson School District buildings. While the superintendent was within her rights to not hire the teacher, she apparently went the extra mile in insuring she would not be a full time staff member.

This item spoke volumes to me.

A hundred parents came out in support of a teacher who was heretofore simply a sub. A school board kept in mind that the most valuable commodity a district has is its teachers. It kept in mind that it works for the taxpayer. A superintendent was presented with the fact that she too works for the taxpayer, and that her teaching staff is the most valuable asset where employees are concerned.

And then I remembered where I live.

I remembered a school board that is clueless about teaching staff and its value, that plays politics instead of prudence where voting is concerned, that honors a superintendent that has largely destroyed education in the district and placed more unqualified individuals in administrative positions than the Bush administration.I remembered that it would appear that no one has the guts to remind our leadership that the interest of the students and their taxpaying parents come first, that the teachers are the ones pushing forth learning, and not someone so out of touch that one would think he is reading a fairy tale.

Thanks, Thomas Jefferson. You've renewed my faith. Somebody in this region has it right.

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at September 23, 2009 9:18 PM

52 comments:

Questioner said...

Link to the PG article on this issue:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09266/1000266-100.stm

Anonymous said...

We are so much more apathetic in the PPS district. There is fear, but it cannot all be explained by fear.

Anonymous said...

"...the most valuable commodity a district has is its teachers."

So true, and not just in a school district. The strength of any organization is in its employees, those people actually in the trenches.

Does anyone remember one of Mr. Roosevelt's first statements when he came to Pittsburgh? It was the start of a pattern.

He announced that he was going to charge teachers for their coffee machine electricity use.

What would that petty charge be? Maybe ten cents per teacher per month?

How's that for attending to the morale of your valuable employees?

I mention this not because the charge actually happened - the idea was so silly that it was soon discarded - but because it is just one example of how teachers are valued by the administration in the PPS.

Anonymous said...

Roosevelt is smart enough to understand that his own shortcomings where know-how is concerned, educationally speaking, must be overshadowed by his corporate acumen. To that end, arranging the Pittsburgh Promise is the lynch pin to which he has adjoined himself and his reputation. There are those who decry the idea of teaching to the test where PSSA's and other similar tests are concerned. I can only wonder where the outcry over placing students on the pathway to the promise, an avenue that actually rewards students for doing even the slightest bit of classwork, is. This is a man who has sacrificed the idea of academic integrity in favor of giving cash to kids to go to college. While I can salute the latter philosophy, the former can only be looked upon as an insult to students who achieve.

But what does it matter? The school board and media are in the man's pocket. Dissenters are looked upon as whiners. The teachers union has been broken. And Mark has bodyguards to take him around each school. What a great gig.

Who was it that said that if you can't beat 'em with brains, baffle 'em with BS?

Mark Rauterkus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Rauterkus said...

Agree: Pgh citizens are quite, by and large, apathetic on many areas of our community life.

Agree: Pgh citizens are quite, by and large, apathetic on many areas of our community life.

Agree: Fear is a big factor that can silence and freeze actions. 'Blow back' is real. Stepping out of line often comes with dire consequences for you, your ideas and worst of all, others associated with you, such as your children.

Beyond fear, another factor to help explain and understand the landscape is 'division.' Divide and conquer. One family I know has three kids in high school and all are in different schools, yet all are public schools.

Pittsburgh is a city of bridges, because we need those structures. Our social landscape needs more bridges too, so that the divisions among a H-U-G-E district can be more easily navigated.

Thank goodness for the PURE REFORM blog, as it is one such bridge to help soften the large and often fractured communities of the PPS.

Meanwhile, how many high schools are in Jefferson Hills? The size of the district plays a hand in their capacity to make demands from powered positions.

And, IMHO, finally, if PPS ever got a grip on its real issues and built trust (without yanking families around so) -- the outward migration would reverse.

Beyone fear, another factor to help explain and understand the landscape is 'division.' Divide and conquor. One family I know has three kids in high school and all are in different schools, yet all are public schools.

Pittsburgh is a city of bridges, because we need those structures. Our social landscape needs more bridges too, so that the divisions among a H-U-G-E district can be more easily navigated.

Thank goodness for the PURE REFORM blog, as it is one such bridge to help soften the large and often fractured communities of the PPS.

Meanwhile, how many high schools are in Jefferson Hills? The size of the district plays a hand in their capacity to make demands from powered positions.

And, IMHO, finally, if PPS ever got a grip on its real issues and built trust (without yanking families around so) -- the outward migration would reverse.

Questioner said...

Thank you for your kind words of support, Mark!

Anonymous said...

Mark, blow back is even a bigger fear for teachers who simply want to teach kids in a logical, real world sense and not from canned curriculum that has come from Pitt or other ivory tower sources. You were at the introduction of the teacher rating system, and we have heard that recent principal meetings have been peppered with the idea of "focusing" on teachers, i.e., targeting teachers. Is there anyone out there who still believe Mr.Roosevelt and his thousand man administration approach really values teachers???
Since observations cannot be objective and since there is no union anymore, how can any teacher not believe that disagreeing with the current administration is a means to have a bull's eye placed on his or her back?
You're right about TJ High being the only high school in that district, but you've sidestepped the issue of parents getting involved, of a school board remembering who is represents and of that school board remembering that teachers are its greatest asset and at the end of the day, the superintendent certainly does NOT have unlimited powers that go unquestioned.

Mark Rauterkus said...

No. I don't agree.

Sure, we're asking to measure the absurd. But, blow back for a teacher with a pay check is much less to the risk of blow back for a parent concerning his/her children & associations.

True, it is fear all around. FUD kills.

BTW, there is still a union to my knowledge. Don't offer that on a true-false test.

The union might not be all it used to be. But, there are union elections. FWIW, the union was dead to me back in the day when the union was 'strong' (perhaps) by some other measures.

Al Fondy went to South and helped to dig the hole it got burried within.

I do not intend to sidestepping anything. The "why" of it all is needed to be understood.

Bridges need to be built. And, the union could do plenty to build more of those as well. The union has been an island sans bridges for too, too long.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mark, but you're dead wrong. While I will grant you that in the final few years of his tenure, Fondy traded important issues in favor of the "For a Few Dollars More" approach, to say that it has the impact and power that it did circa 1971 to 1993 would be outrageously false. Then again, I guess I can say that about more than a few unions.
And your comment about blow back hitting a parent harder borders on the absurd. Are you of the belief that the RISE program and now the Gates grant money is simply meant to act as a cohesive initiative to improve teaching? If so, you have read too many press releases that come from Bellefield Avenue. The point continues to be that teachers losing their livelihoods thanks to the current and coming process, intertwined with speaking up about issues pertaining to the current administration's procedures is a recipe for dismissal. The idea is to dismiss teachers, Mark. While perhaps you feel that there are still myriad "ineffective" teachers in this district--a point to which I would vehemently disagree--targeting teachers as a directive is disturbing. Building bridges, you say? Perhaps you should do some research before offering public floggings of teachers.
You offer a wonderful idea to sing "Kumbaya".That's nice, but it's the plan of a child. The union has continually built the bridges you write of in completely capitulating to the superintendent. Its lone trump card, a strike, must seem greatly hilarious by the board.
It's pretty clear where your opinions lie and sadly, they are again greatly misinformed.
The point remains that the best school districts have school boards that appreciate their charge: do right by the taxpayer, provide great opportunities for academic growth of children, remember that your teachers are your best asset. If these charges mean stepping over an administrator who has forgotten who he works for, so be it.
Your apologist stance seemingly would be a minority in Jefferson Hills, Mark.

Questioner said...

Can anyone explain how, if there is a set curriculum that teachers must stick to, they can be held responsible for the results? As long as a teacher is sticking to the program day by day, including checking homework and reviewing papers conscientiously, and the teacher is not allowed to deviate from that curriculum, how can the teacher be blamed if results are not as good as hoped/ expected?

Anonymous said...

As one who has been referred to as "that crackpot" or worse, blow back to a parent is real. Add to that the stigma your kid carries due to your actions/opinions and it is a hard reputation to shake.

I was not a supporter of the compensation/bonus program for principals and I think RISE is another way to destroy collaboration among teachers. No one teacher can be the ONE to turn things around for every student in his class. After a recent parent meeting I spoke to another parent about a teacher our kids had in common. The experiences our kids had were very different. Snarky question, but will principals have a quota of how many teachers they should steer to another profession per year?

Anonymous said...

If you lose what collaboration there is between teachers now, you're sunk. If anything, it should be increased and strengthened, especially if the district wants newer teachers to come in at any point.

Setting up teachers against each other ruins the sense that everyone has to succeed for the school to succeed, instead it promotes teachers keeping their best ideas and best practices to themselves. Sharing successes under a lot of "teacher improvement" or "merit pay" schemes means losing money. Not a good way to set it up.

Questioner said...

Is the RISE program the one that may discourage collaboration? Has it already been put in place, is it at all grade levels, and is there anything online with more information?

Anonymous said...

I think that RISE is new this year and being "tested" in many schools -- was supposed to be a few, is more now. I'm guessing that its being piloted was part of the application for the big Gates grant.

Like many other things that have happened, it sounds good on paper. But what happens in reality is so often different than what was advertised. For instance, the Pittsburgh Promise - money for college, great! - and then, in reality it seems to be a driving force between changing grading practices and making higher grades easier (even though there's more rigor). Go figure.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Do NOT put words into my mouth and post what you might assume that I might think. Be yourself.

Crap questions such as this from an anonymous comment maker isn't welcomed: "Are you of the belief that the RISE program and now the Gates grant money is simply meant to act as a cohesive initiative to improve teaching? If so, you have read too many press releases that come from Bellefield Avenue."

FWIW, I'm am not of that belief.

Furthermore, this is crap squared:

"...While perhaps you feel that there are still myriad "ineffective" teachers in this district--a point to which I would vehemently disagree--targeting teachers as a directive is disturbing. Building bridges, you say? Perhaps you should do some research before offering public floggings of teachers."

Grow up.

Do NOT put words into my mouth. You lost all cred.

You'll not see me at a public flogging of teachers -- ever. Where is the one for childish anonymous BS makers however? That is deserved.

Build bridges isn't a question -- I said it.

Perhaps?!?!?! Yeah, right.

As to research, the reason Mr. Fondy was 'dead to me' was because his union didn't do its research. Go figure. And, it was first hand experiences at the end of his tenure, as you said, in his sell out years. So, I don't care to re-write nor re-visit the entire union history over the decades, but offer my $.03.

But here is the bottom line:
BLOOD is thicker than the cash of paycheck.

A livelihood is a big harry deal and second fiddle to a life.

Sing songs = YOUR IDEA. Not mine. Childish you are, again.

Again for the umpteenth time, I didn't advocate for a bridge from the UNION to the Superintendent. YOU DID. Not me. That isn't what I speak of.

Perhaps you got me, one who signs all he posts on the Internet, confused with the Boogie Man?

New thought: A strike is a lone trump card for those without imagination.

New thought: Teachers are NOT my "best asset", IMNSHO. Rather, my best asset is the resilience of my kids, and taken to a larger context, the resilience of all of our students.

The best treasure is within. That's the #1 asset.

Teachers are certainly an asset. But, not at the very top of my list.

I do not have an apologist stance, anonymous.

amymoore said...

One of our superintendent's tactics has been to divide and conquer. By quoting a ridiculously high price for the essential repairs to Schenley, it guaranteed that anyone not from Schenley would not support us in our fight. I hate to see the contributors to this blog fall into that same trap; we need to be united in our fight for a good education for the children of our city. Pitting teachers against parents doesn't accomplish our goals.

Questioner said...

That's right! Discuss, debate, but we need to unite to be strong.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Yes. Ridiculous quotes that are NOT true are evil.

Yes 2, as I posted in the thread: "...another factor to help explain and understand the landscape is 'division.' Divide and conquer."

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, the "divide and conquer" phenomenon may help explain why a school board can work better in a district like Jefferson than one like Pittsburgh. But how do we get around it? It's an interesting political science question but unfortunately more than theoretical for us.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Q: How do you get around it?

A: Organize.

Not A: Not lock-step boosterism. Not unity at all costs. Not single party rule. Not conformity and squashing dissent.

To organize means to have organized money, organized people, -- and most important when talking of education and public sohools -- organized ideas.

Schools, faculty(ies), PTAs, students, and so on can be organized (or not) into fractions and sub-groups and not be able to have much district-wide power and influence.

Bridges, links, networks are necessary.

We need to find common ground.

We need to share.

We need to understand ourselves, our challenges, our communities, our city with an awareness on past, present and future.

We need to communicate.

That "PPS Cold Play Video" sucks because it is ignorant to the recent successes of our city by discounting to meaningless the recent past.

Finally, we need a whole lot of 'trust.' Trust in our conversations, our language use, our goals, our relationships.

There are plenty of areas in our educational landscape where trust is but a dream.

Old Veteran said...

Mr.Rauterkus, I too appreciate Pure Reform.
Having said that, let me take issue with one of your recent comments that surrounds the idea of anonymity. It's wonderful that you choose to sign your name here, but to deride others who will not, like myself, is folly. Under the leadership of Dick Wallace or Louise Brennan, I would not have hesitated to do such a thing. It is clear that the Roosevelt administration is quite another thing, however. I am glad that there are many here who have suspicions about RISE, and about how it can be used to dismiss teachers. I am glad that there are others who look at Gates money as yet another way to torpedo teachers. I am pleased that I am not the only one who has friends in administration who have come out of recent meetings with a queasy feeling about having to target and dismiss teachers. No sir, I would not recommend any teacher sign his name to a critique of any kind.

That said, I am unsure what it is you would want teachers to make out of your initial posting here. It would seem to me that you have gone out of your way to dismiss questions as having misquoted you and yet, the overall feeling you seem to exude is that you are neither a fan of the union or of teachers, in general.

You profess the need for trust and for teachers, there can be no trust. We can't trust an administration that seeks to kill individualism and creativity in teaching by publishing curricula which is simply aimed at the two headed monster of being politically correct and managing the thoughts of our students. We can't trust principals who are given the tasks of micromanaging their schools ad infinitum and of focusing teachers. We can't trust teams of administrators who conduct walk-throughs of buildings that are alternately meant to rattle cages, ensure adherence to curriculum and search for the most ridiculous, nit-picky material hanging on walls and featured in student notebooks. That most PELA principals and administrators have had a year or two experience in the classroom is noteworthy in this regard. They wouldn't know good teaching unless Roosevelt told them what it was. What a laugh.
We can't trust a superintendent who has made so many disparaging remarks about teaching staff that it makes us wonder if he knows what line of work he is in.
We can't trust a school board who sides with administration at every turn, that provides huge raises to the superintendent--a man who has nothing to do with academic achievement--while playing hardball with teachers.
And Mr.Rauterkus, we can't trust our union. We can't trust secret ballot elections, secret ballot votes, backroom wheeling and dealing and concessions upon concessions. For the record, I have never been a fan of our union but what it was under Fondy makes this current regime look complicit in their dealings. In the early 1980's, our union benefit book for each contract was as thick as your fist. It is now as thick as two fingers.

Lastly, it is a given that you place highest value upon your children in the schools. That's natural. Good teachers go beyond dedication and prioritize the achievement of all students as if they were their own. There are still many, many such teachers left in this district who despite the stress which is coming from this administration, endeavor to aid in the success of their students. These are the people who still try to inflect personality and enthusiasm into a curriculum that seeks to make teaching a production line process. These are people who take their work home each night and each weekend, through holidays and beyond. These are teachers who prepare for the next year through their summers.


I applaud West Jefferson Hills' school board for their actions. Perhaps they will have sent a message to our school board about priorities, as well. Power which has no checks and balances--such as in Pittsburgh--can only be viewed as dangerous.

Old Veteran said...

Some random additional comments. The word "quota" is used by an anonymous poster and it is right on target. I have heard of a couple of larger high schools being given the directive to focus on a large number of teachers. I guess the question would be, what happens if you have a staff that is doing what it should?

There is a comment about perceptions of teaching that is very telling, as well. Who decides what is effective and how? Which microscope do we use? Whose definition is right? It's bothersome to many that the average principal now has 3 or less years experience and was in the classroom for that amount of time or less.

Lastly, the comment about a strike is right on, as well, and unfortunately derided again by Mr.Rauterkus. I'd have to ask why a union is necessary if it is looked upon as such a weak entity by the other side. The PFT seems to pride itself on the idea that it hasn't struck in almost 40 years. Big deal. If your child knows that he can go against your rules without fear of any repercussion or, horror of horrors, a good slap, then I'd submit the behavior will continue.
Teachers will not have "raises" commensurate with the cost of living so long as administration looks upon the fears of a strike as laughable. Why would district negotiators ever give in, after all? Because they don't want to make teachers angry?

Mark Rauterkus said...

I do not deride others who are anonymous. That isn't the lone condition. Far from it. Being anonymous is fine with me.

Being anonymous yet speaking for me is NOT okay.

It is the speaking / posting for me that is the problem, nameless or otherwise.

Others should take my message as they are written and NOT twist them and give them attribution back to me. Twist the ideas if you wish, but don't give me ownership of your examples.

OBJECTION example ....you feel that there are still myriad "ineffective" teachers in this district-- ,,,, END OBJECTION.

Those types of childish discussion points are NOT welcomed. How I feel is not for others to assume and blab wrongly about.

You posted: The overall feelings I seem to exude are ... (come now).

Step one. Defense. Do NOT pin overall feelings onto me. That is a twist. Be exact for YOURSELF. Don't paint me with YOUR broad brush. "In general, I'm a fan of XYZ." Alarms sound. Don't put me in a box.

In general, on an educational blog, you would slander and say, that I am not a fan of teachers. Srew that and screw you for still doing the wrong things.

For the record: I am a fan of many great teachers.

As for trust, (new point). Yes, there is a need for trust. But, trust must be earned. One can not just need trust and do it, expect it, wish for it, nor be ordered to
trust.

Globally, we need more trust. The PPS, the system, the schools, the teachers, the students, and so on. Trust is a weak link here (in Pgh). And, frankly, trust also goes away when others pin their thoughts on me in backhanded ways.

I think trust is a weakness. You said, "there can be no trust." Humm. I'd counter. Of course there can be trust. It is in the realm of the possible. You had trust in the past. Some trust has to be somewhere, to build upon, for common ground.

One who wants divisions would NEVER want trust in others.

Trust could be a new thread at this blog. "What areas within PPS are sources for great trust for you?"

Old Veteran said...

Mr.Rauterkus, thanks for your explanation and comments. While I didn't see anything approaching a personal attack here, I'll apologize if I inferred mistaken meaning from your posts. I appreciate the fact that you and others are here, and offering steps to solutions. Thanks.
As for the idea of "trust", again, pardon me. My comments should have been more in line with rhetorical questions. How can we trust, when...et al. You are correct in asserting that one is either part of the problem or part of the solution. I simply feel teachers have long been willing to be on the positive side of the ledger.
Blogs are wonderful tools for discussion, but they certainly don't act as any substitute for personal discussion. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Old Veteran. Mark, thanks for the clarification. I agree. For the most part, we're all fighting on the same side. Too bad we can't have a real discussion someplace to get our points across clearly.

kanonymous said...

RISE is being piloted at 28-30 schools this year. I am not a professional educator but that seems beyond what I have come to think of as a "pilot." How would I know this detail as a PPS parent? Well, there are at least two parents at our PSCC meeting and we get to ask questions. Yeah, two. Recently there were 4. At another meeting in another building staff members outnumbered parents 2-to-1

It is not for lack of trying. Some buildings use Alert Now to the point where you almost expect a call daily about an event or as a reminder of an event. IF ANYONE FROM ANY LEVEL OF THE ADMIN EVER READS THIS, THE ALERT NOW SYSTEM IS APPRECIATED. Parents are not coming out for school level meetings like they used too. There are tons of reasons and it is not for lack of an invitation from the schools. Please don't criticize me for not stirring my fellow parents to attend and be active. I only exaggerate a little when I say people avoid me to prevent hearing me ask again and again to let me pick them up and take them along.

One question asked at a PSCC: If this is a pilot year, will the evals of teachers be official for 2009-2010? The answer was yes. I can't imagine that the evals won't be challenged since only about half the teaching staff live with RISE this year and the other half get a one year pass? Now, you might ask why parents would even be interested in this info. We may be signing our name as anonymous to a blog post, but we need to pay attention too. One day there may be a teacher under scrutiny who made the biggest positive impact in the life of the student we send to school and that teacher may need our support.

Sad Soul said...

Don't you all understand? Can't you all see?

The Pittsburgh Public Schools are done. Finished. We are on inevitably on the road to the Detroit / Washington DC public schools model. All talk. All public relations. Nothing else.

Despite the best efforts of the many good and dedicated PPS teachers and parents, we are in the grip of an insanely out-of-touch-with-reality administration and a get-along-to-go-along union.

The parents of the better students are fleeing the district. What more needs to be said?

kanonymous said...

Sad Soul, your message makes one want to throw in the towel. Do you live in the district or just work in the district? Some of us cannot afford to be so final in our thoughts about PPS. We still have children to consider and charters to dismiss as options in some cases and private schools we'd have to sell our homes to afford. For now, what that leaves a parent to do is be on top of the school his kid attends.

Sad Soul said...

To Kanonymous,

I completely understand your post. I wish you well.

Yes, I work for the PPS. And I have lived in Pittsburgh for many years.

My post was meant to deliberately cause alarm. Much like a call to 911 is meant to deliberately cause alarm.

I would say to you, and to all other PPS parents, that you really have one of three choices.

Either get your child into CAPA, where education is still orderly.

Or get your child into the CAS or PSP program, where education is still somewhat orderly.

Or get your child into a charter school.

In all honesty, I cannot see any other options.

And heaven help those poor students stuck in the mainstream classes. They are lost.

And I speak from more experience than you can imagine.

Questioner said...

Some say that the Pittsburgh Promise will prevent a slide to a Washington DC/ Detroit situation. But there is a danger of overreliance on the Pittsburgh Promise.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Sad Soul says PPS is, "Finished."

"All Talk... Nothing else."

Then later Sad Soul says, CAPA and CAS where education is somewhat orderly.

CAPA = Something.

I do love to hear alarms. I do love to hear from experienced voices.

I don't like double-talk.

The self conflicting statements make it hard to get past 1st base in a logical discussion.

There are plenty of options. But sadly, only a minority are good options. A few of the options might be great options.

Sigh. The sky is falling on a tranquil time.... Alarms buzz.

Sad Soul said...

To Mark R.

I have read your many posts here. And, in all seriousness, I have nothing but respect for you. Your participation at this forum has done much good.

So I must assume that my comments were unclear. Please explain your remark about my "double-talk" and I will attempt to clarify.

Questioner said...

It would have been great to build on the good options. CAPA is perceived as a good option, but there is not enough room for all qualified students who would choose it. Sci Tech is expected to be a good option, but again space is limited. And, unlike with CAPA, no matter how talented or committed the student is to science, he/she must rely on the luck of the lottery. Schools that are racially and economically diverse tend to be perceived as good options, but the district created last year a school with over 90% of students the same race and economic group.

Questioner said...

It seems like what Mark meant was that a post by Sad Soul first said PPS are done, then referred to CAPA, CAS and PSP as good options. But reliance on these good options has probably been the situation for a while. While we may not be improving on that situation to any great extent, is there reason to think things will change for the worse?

Sad Soul said...

Thank you for the posting, 10:16 Questioner.

I stand by my comment that the PPS are finished, regardless of the CAPA, CAS, and PSP options.

Let me explain.

First of all, CAPA is in no way representative of the PPS. A student must audition to get into CAPA, and is returned to his/her neighborhood school if he/she is seen as a disruption.

If you think of CAPA not as a PPS but as an exclusive private school funded by public money, then you've got the CAPA picture.

CAPA's acomplishments will therefore do nothing to influence the future of the PPS as a whole.

Now to the CAS program. It, too, is exclusive. And it is in decline. Most PPS high schools have less and less CAS-eligible students as time goes by. Some schools are even facing with dropping their CAS program. Why? Because those CAS parents that can move out of the city, do move out of the city. They are tired of school violence and the insane ever-changing curriculum. I know. I have talked in depth with these CAS parents.

Now to the PSP. The PSP is self-selecting. So you get students that are not at PSP level. You get students that are often disruptive. Students that turn a challenging PSP course into a behavior-modification class. Sorry, but that's often true.

So is the PPS finished? Yes, unless the administration is willing and able to recognize and confront these issues. And, sadly, it is not.

Questioner said...

Is PSP entirely self-selecting? It seems like many teachers incorporate behavior into grades. Would poor grades be grounds to return a student to a non-PSP class? Of course, that only pushes the problem to another classroom. If classes are deteriorating in this way, the Pittsburgh Promise will not convince families to stay.

Discipline does seem to be a big problem. We hear reports of students swearing at teachers, pulling fire alarms for no reason, etc. Are problems growing worse, or is this more of the same? Is CEP making a dent in the problem?

Observer said...

I think there are a number of things going on that are bringing about the changes we see in PPS. I think there has been a great migration of achievers in this district who have moved on to private/charter/cyber schools. I'm sure there are a lot of reasons and I will stick to the feeling that the Promise doesn't really address the needs and concerns of achieving students and families who are looking for more than an education at a state institution.
I think what is left in our schools certainly presents challenges for teachers. Comprehensive school teachers are now dealing with the twin evils of behavioral issues and apathy like never before.
I would tend to disagree about PSP, AP and CAS classes, however. I don't feel that PSP classes are self-selecting or are a par with the idea that if you're a nice kid, you're in. Most PSP classes I have come in contact with are rigorous and have a review process at the end of the year. But I would agree that we are losing CAS kids and possibly programs, with them.
I would agree with the comments about CAPA. I would add the IB program in too, for many of the same reasons. There are still a lot of fine CAS, AP and PSP students coming out of places like Allderdice, Brashear, Langley and Carrick. Schools within schools? Maybe.
I think that PPS is symbolic of what we are seeing across the country, from Secretary of Ed Duncan's thoughts, to DC and other places. I think the oversight here and the swell of academic officers is odd and questionable, in some regards. Certainly, we have moved away from the idea of site based management that was here during the tenure of a couple of administrations to one of the ultimate power being in one central location. We have also drifted away from the idea of teacher empowered learning to one which has oversight and yet, this is a new national trend.
Where is it all headed? I don't know. The bottom line is that the changes aren't winning over families of achieving students, and that's worrisome.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a problem has been that instead of leaving the functioning parts of the system alone (ie, CAS, PSP, CAPA, etc.) and focusing on the nonfunctioning parts, many changes are being applied "across the board" under central control. This was a concern mamy parents had with one of the first changes, the Kaplan curriculum. The intentions may be good, but not the results.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Yes, above. The double-talk is what I meant in hearing the illogical.

A. PPS is finsihed (bad)
B. CAPA and CAS good
C. Exclude CAPA & CAS as they are not part of PPS.

Of course CAPA is a PPS School. Of course it is not the norm. But it is not to be ignored.


Also said earlier by someone:
1. There is no union.
2. But a union does indeed exist.
3. That's double-talk -- err -- better to say miss-information.

Sure, it might not be what it once was -- but be accurate.

If the language is broken, then the conversation can't occur.

I agree, we (PPS) should have built upon the successes. Rather than a move of Rodgers into CAPA, I would have, and advocated for, an EXPANSION of CAPA into the extra spaces now devoted to 6,7,8th graders. CAPA, a good school, could have expanded for 9th to 12th graders.

Then, if Rodgers Building was indeed not able to be used -- then Rodgers could have moved and SPLIT. Open up a EAST Rodgers, say in Hazelwood. Then a West Rodgers, say in Knoxville. There are plenty of available schools that are empty. Even a Central Rodgers at South.

Rodgers is a good school. People are excited to go there. People stay in the city because of Rodgers and CAPA. Well, expand what works.

Same too for Frick. It was a good school, IMHO. So, it isn't broken -- or not as much as some of the others in PPS. So, don't mess with it. I was sad to see Frick move in such a drastic way.

Meanwhile, Westinghouse is broken in terms of capacity and its ability to attract students. Hence, it would have made great sense to me to put Sci-Tech into Westinghouse.

But, you can't build on the success if it is ignored and discounted to the point of being invisible in the conversations the follow.

Anonymous said...

It seems like Frick lost out. It was its own complete school, and now it is in a wing and needs to share cafeteria, gym and other space with a high school. It is hard to see how the benefit of students who go from the middle to the high school program staying in the same building outweighs the losses.

kanonymous said...

If there could be a non-violent educational coup I would put Old Veteran and Observer in charge now and take the rest of the year off. This thread is covering a lot. I heard a principal say kids were surprised when they discovered they did not meet eligibility requirements to get Promise dollars. The Promise most benefits the students who need the incentive to do better than a 2.0 and yes I know the minimum GPA increase as the Promise ages. Until 2012 when the annual award amount increases to $10,000 per year I will have to believe that the kids who have performed well are getting screwed. They did not need the incentive of the Promise to do well. They were the IB, CAS, PSP, AP and CAPA kids. And to some extent the magnet kids.

It is true that the Promise was designed to stave off population loss, but one might also say an additional consideration was to offer an incentive to improve behavior, attendance, etc. Paying attention to what I hear leads me to believe those goals are a long way from being met.

As a parent the highest priorities are Is my kid safe? and Is my kid happy? If both of those questions can be answered YES then the kid will learn what he needs to know. I bet the achieving kids looking elsewhere for an education can't answer YES in their PPS building.

A few thoughts on charters. Don't know much about Arne Duncan but I have read he is a supporter of charters. Locally, some are good, some are ok and some are living off their hype. If you really want to know the quality of a charter or even any school ask a kid who played a sport against them. I caught a program extolling the accomplishments of one charter and the kids looked so nice on TV in their uniforms and school blazer. They played street ball. You know basketball with no rules, all anger. In choosing a charter my advice would be to exercise caution.

Mark Rauterkus said...

BTW, Sad Soul, thanks for the kind words above.

kanonymous said...

I don't know how many parents are still atively posting to this thread besides Mark and me, but a thought just occured to me. How many parents would be in parent meetings if not for CAS? There have been PSCC meetings where only CAS parents were in attendance. I wonder if there is any data on attendance.

Questioner said...

You can post to a thread at anytime! If it's been a while since anyone has posted we can use the post to start a new thread.

It doesn't seem that issues such as parent attendance at meetings are a priority at this time.

Observer said...

I tend to think that apathy among the citizenry provides a license for allowing issues to continue status quo. The Schenley closure was initially given attention by this board, but when it became apparent that only Schenley people were voicing their outrage, the idea became, let them have their say, it will all fizzle out and we will do as we please.
If nothing else, I gave Mr.Roosevelt and his staff credit for being very bright and having a keen sense of what can become incendiary to the public at large and what is a minor matter.
In this regard, we all pay for apathy and complacency. CAS parents can only do so much and the same can be said for any other specific group within the overall category of "parents." If there were ever a groundswell of support or dissent, I am sure that board leadership would sing a different tune. Left as is however, leadership controls the media and squelches the idea of investigation and inquiry. It proceeds with issues such as curriculum in a cavalier manner despite the protests of teachers and even trumpets testing success as being resultant of the curricula, when in fact, the curriculum was a major problem in test preparation. But here again, it's of little consequence when there are not great numbers of teachers or of parents holding the powers that be accountable. I always get the feeling that the board regards complaints and issues as minor colds that will go away over time.

Mark Rauterkus said...

As far as citizen objections, ....

Being worn out and worn down are different, slightly, than apathy.

When you stop beating your head against a wall, it feels good.

To bad that those that vote with their feet and depart can't leave their proxie with others who choose to stay. That's the majority.

When the Schenley building was closed, there were some 'concessions' of sort. The students got the pledge that they would NOT be split up and that they would be able to graduate with a Schenley diploma. So, the fight got something in return. The value is suspect but it was not a total wash out.

Anonymous said...

The value is definitely an issue. Students didn't know that they would not only be kept together but in many ways isolated from the "new schools."

Observer said...

Going back to the original post in this thread, one can say that parental dissent got the school board to take action on their behalf. But as Mark intimated early on, it would be a safe bet that a district the size of Pittsburgh's would entail a great deal more screaming and hollering, and over a protracted period of time. I have to say that I cannot remember an issue within recent times that garnered such a feeling among parents and city residents.
I think the Schenley issue is somewhat shameful in this regard. Instead of an entire city seeing the merit in keeping the school alive and with it, a tradition, you saw the same apathy coming from among non-Schenley parents. I don't profess to understand the issues that surrounded the building itself, but in reading from so many that the costs of renovations were greatly inflated and in full knowledge of the many projects which have been undertaken in the last ten years--with millions poured in--only to see such buildings closed soon after the fixes, I would have expected to see more public concern.
These are the times we live in, I guess. Isn't there an old adage that states that if there is no opposition, those who make decisions are simply emboldened?

Anonymous said...

That would apply here. After Schenley the same methods were used on other issues.

amymoore said...

Mr. Roosevelt definitely knows how to manipulate the media and public opinion. As a Schenley parent, I am fairly sure that any complaints that I express will be passed off as a sore loser because we lost our building. Although I miss the old building, especially its Oakland location, as a relative newcomer to Pgh ( only 25 years!), the tradition of Schenley was not my most important concern. As a former teacher and college counselor and a very involved parent, I was more worried about the educational programs at Schenley. At least for the next few years, I think that my fears have been realized. Maybe the IB can recover from the chaos and uncertainty that it is experiencing now but I really doubt it. I know the excellent teachers that are what has made that program so outstanding are afraid of future policies. How many will be willing to stick around when they are afraid of the future?

Quite frankly, I would be willing to give back the $5000 per year that my kid is eligible for if we could go back to the wonderful experience that he had during his first two years of Schenley.

Annette Werner said...

Often, it is the relative newcomers to Pittsburgh who most appreciate its traditions and landmark buildings, after having lived elsewhere and experienced how much emptier life can be in places without those features.