Thursday, April 22, 2010

Committee recommends closing of East Liberty's Peabody High - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Committee recommends closing of East Liberty's Peabody High - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Members of the community group want school officials to scrap the plans to revamp Westinghouse and focus on creating a career and technical education academy in the east region. The Open East End Panel wants the district to coordinate plans for the east region with other proposed changes, such as an overhaul to the career and technical education program.
Not exactly.

The hope and aim of none is to "scrap the plans to revamp Westinghouse." That is far, far, far from the truth.

One of my missions is to finally get PPS to look at its 'drop out factories.' For far too long, the status and fate of Westinghouse, Oliver, Peabody and Langley have been without attention. So I think it is fair to say that we've all been pushing the institution of PPS to get in gear already about high school reform for those who need it the most.

Closing Schenley was not the high school reform we needed. There. said it. Now to move along.

Yesterday, April 21, 2010, was a big day for high school reform in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Two plans from two different committees saw the light of day. One plan was featured in a press release from the PPS and the other was delivered in a one-hour meeting to top administrators to the PPS. The Open East End Plan was generated by 20 concerned citizens.  I was involved there.

Where the two plans differ is how to revamp Westinghouse.

The Open East End Panel seeks to have a single school at Westinghouse with a majority of the effort devoted to the CTE education for the 9 to 12th graders. The CTE high school could be place at Westinghouse. Or, that could be placed at Peabody. Either would work fine. One or the other. Most feel that Westinghouse is the better option.

So, to let the boil begin:

---> Westinghouse could be a new high school (grades 9 to 12) for kids from throughout the city (city-wide magnet) to be a modern South Vo Tech. Think of it as a new CAPA but with a career and technical education focus. This is a new school with a devotion to academics and specialized trades. Both are needed -- English, History, Math, Science plus new topics and subjects. This would be a new school where kids get plenty of internships and real world experiences. This would be a place for plumbing, carpenters, builders, computer tech, green energy studies, robotics (perhaps), cooking, heating and air conditioning, drafting / CAD, etc.

Or, with the other committee:

---> Westinghouse could be a school for boys and girls of certain east end neighborhoods for grades 6 to 12 where the genders are organized under different principals based on their plumbing.

Boil some more, then we all figure out that two things matter: The boiling (i.e., cooking / catering / culinary arts) and the plumbing (i.e., human anatomy / gender).

For years, I've been a big advocate of the formation of single gender schools. But, a single gender campus is much unlike a single gender classroom.

With the most recent plan put out by the PPS, we see more progress down this pathway. The school district has been forcing kids into classrooms in Westinghouse in some subjects based upon gender. Boys take math in room 101 and girls take the same course in room 103. Single gender classrooms have come to some PPS schools already, recently, by the handywork of certain principals and staff.

A few years ago I suggested that Peobody be turned into a boys campus and Westinghouse be turned into a girls campus. Then we'd have an All Boys Public High and an All Girls Public High. Both would be in their own building. Both would be for grades 9 to 12. Both would be city-wide magnets. Both would be built so as to compete directly with the Catholic single gender schools, Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic.

In the plan to create two all-city magnets for public school kids, All-City Boys Public and All-City Girls Public, I didn't care what schools were utilized to make this happen. Put the boys in Peabody, Westinghous, or even Reizenstein, Oliver or Langley. Put the girls in one of those too. There are five school buildings that are already built and ready for these changes.

It might make some sense to keep the All-City Public Boys and Girls High Schools in the same region, such as the east end. But, this isn't necessary. So, if Girls were at Reizenstein and the boys were at Peabody, then a teacher of Calc or Orchestra or Film or Ceramics or German could spend the first four periods at one school and then hop on a shuttle bus or take a long walk or short bike ride to the other campus for the afternoons. Or, this flip flop could be on a day by day basis if the buildings were too far apart, such as with a move from Langley to Westinghouse (for the teachers).

As an added wrinkle in my plans for putting the boys in one place and the girls in the other, could include a "flip the two schools" on a certain schedule. Every five years, for example, the boys could populate Oliver and the girls could be in Reizenstein. Then in one summer, the schools flip so that the girls and boys go to the other locations. This would insure 'equity.' We'd hate to see the boys get the great gym and the girls get the great typing parlor -- or some other sillyness.

Plus these should be "All City High Schools." The schools need to attract kids who what to go to these schools for more reasons than geography. Lots of people go to Central Catholic who don't live next to nor near Central Catholic. But if you're home is in one section of the city, you should have a chance of going to a closer school and not needing to fill every day with lots of travel. So, if the schools flip from east to west around the city, more kids would have a chance to have lower travel times. This isn't so much a factor for the kids -- but more for the economics of the city neighborhoods. Everyone's home values would increase if these new schools come to our landscape and succeed. And, if the schools are all only in one sector of the city, and exclusive to feeder patterns, then home values could be depressed elsewhere. The city neighborhoods have a slightly better chance to thrive as we position the schools in different sections of the city. Of course, better yet is to keep down costs of the schools and to put the schools in central locations where everyone can get to them without too much trouble.

South Vo Tech (South Side at 9th Street) was in a great location. Same too for Connelley (Hill District just above Civic Arena) and Schenley (Oakland). Those are three excellent locations. Now, none have schools, sadly. A fourth location that begs for a school or a sell of of its property value is the Board of Education Building in Oakland, right next to Pitt's Cathedral of Learning. A fifth, the PFT Building (Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers) on Mon riverfront property on the South Side.

As the All City Boys and Girls High Schools flip locations, I think we'd see different dynamics and more city-wide ownership among the business community and residents. This idea of a public school alternative to Central could get broad support if it is with city-wide roots. The best way to insure that it is for everyone to consider is to let folks know that it is a school program, not a building, and the programs are going to evolve and revolve.

Another big factor in this flipping of schools is the build rehab constraints. Face it, some of the physical assets are not up to par. PPS needs to keep plugging away on its capital improvements -- with a deliberate pace so to keep costs in tight check. We need a system wide fix up of many schools. We could rotate the students out of certain buildings while the work is done. This was done already with kids at Frick and Schenley, but with less than ideal results. But, let's say for the sake of discussion that a large amount of work is needed at Perry Traditional High because of its age and new capacity for becoming a Teachers Center. So, an option is to put the All City Girls High into an east end school and shift Perry Traditional students to Oliver for a year. Then the building at Oliver could be made ready to accept the All City Girls High in the third year.

Let's plan ahead. Let's plan in the open.

Another key to this idea of flipping schools is political. We have elected school board members who are with regional districts. Each of the board members comes from one of nine voting areas. If the All City Girls High School is always in one district -- then that board member is going to have more interest in that school and the other eight won't. If the All City Girls High School moves from time to time to different areas of the city, then all the members on the school board would take a greater interest in that school and its programs.

For too long, the city has been too parochial in its politics. This is the time to break out of the feeder pattern mentality.

Let's scrap -- a term used at the top of this blog post -- all feeder pattern constraints for high school kids. Feeder patterns should be removed.

Perry Traditional High School (northern side) is a city-wide magnet.

CAPA grades 6-12 (Creative and Performing Arts) is a city-wide magnet.

Pgh Obama (IB) grades 6-10 in 2010 and 6-12 in 2012 (IB) is growing into a city-wide magnet.

Sci-Tech 6-9 now and growing into grades 6-12 is a city-wide magnet.

Let's make a city-wide magnets for the All City Girls Public High, the All City Boys Public High, the Pittsburgh CTE (Career and Technical Education) High School.

With the new schools comes a need and calling to make the comprehensive high schools in the city all choice too. Make Allderdice, Brashear, Langley and Carrick all-city magnets where anyone from anywhere in the city can go to that school if they choose to do so. High Schools of choice would be a better Pittsburgh promise, a Pittsburgh pledge. That's a platform for Pittsburgh.

The transportation needs are not much of an issue as the high school kids get bus passes to ride on PAT (mass transit). If you want to go to Allderdice and you live in the west end, fine. Just take a bus or get a ride.

As all the schools become magnets, then the students won't be forced to go to a program because of an address of record. Students move anyway. Families that want to plug kids into certain schools can do so now -- with some creativity and door knocking.

Full article from today's Trib:

By Daveen Rae Kurutz, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Thursday, April 22, 2010

A city schools committee yesterday released recommendations that would result in the closing of Peabody High School in East Liberty.

The committee proposes sending Peabody students in grades 6 through 12 to Westinghouse High School or Milliones. Students forced to relocate would be able to choose which school they would attend.

Milliones, which houses the Pittsburgh Public Schools' University Preparatory magnet, is a joint middle school-high school. Westinghouse would be converted into two single-gender academies for students in grades 6 through 12.

"We wanted to create a school that meets the needs of students in the East End," said Derrick Lopez, assistant superintendent for secondary schools. "We also want to offer our kids the opportunities afforded to those (at) Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic."

District officials are considering a plan to move the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies to Peabody starting in fall 2012.

The recommendations, which the board could vote on this summer, would affect students in 16 neighborhoods from the Hill District to Point Breeze. Currently, 373 students attend Milliones, 310 attend Westinghouse and 426 attend Peabody.

However, many students who would attend Peabody instead enroll in magnet programs at other schools such as CAPA and Obama, said Ebony Pugh, district spokeswoman.

Peabody's enrollment dropped from 497 students last year, and officials project enrollment will continue to decline to 194 by fall 2012 because of population loss. Officials expect Westinghouse's enrollment to dip to about 100 students in 2012.

Officials released the recommendations after a meeting with the Open East End Panel, a group formed by community leaders and school board members to examine the same issues as the district committee did.

Members of the community group want school officials to scrap the plans to revamp Westinghouse and focus on creating a career and technical education academy in the east region. The Open East End Panel wants the district to coordinate plans for the east region with other proposed changes, such as an overhaul to the career and technical education program.

"A lot of these plans bump into each other, like a boa constrictor trying to digest a whole lot at once," said Annette Werner, coordinator of the Open East End Panel. "Some parents get overwhelmed by all the changes, so we hope the district will thoughtfully consider our plan and present both widely for the public to consider."

Pugh said officials will use both committees' work to make a final recommendation to the school board.
There is much more to sort out as these various plan and other ideas clash.

My Summary:

Put the girls in one campus. Put the boys in another. Two academies within the same building is not good enough.

Put the high schoolers in a high school, without grades 6, 7 and 8. Make some great middle schools too. A few 6-12 schools is okay, but that should not dominate the landscape.

Open a new South Vo Tech as a high school for grades 9-12. Don't build a new school building from scratch. Rather, use Peabody, or Westinghouse, or even Reizenstein if necessary, as the CTE High School. At this new city-wide high school, teach the students in academics classes and their trades in the same school.

Do think again when prudent.

I don't think U-Prep is working well as a 6-12 school. So, it might make a great city-wide U-Prep middle school with a credit recovery program for older students.

Make all high schools in the city magnet schools. Drop feeder patterns for all the high schools. Allow any kid to go to any school with the exception of the gender specific schools.

Magic Wand Rant:

Don't allow for any 9th grade at Peabody in the fall of 2010. Close Peabody soon after. Begin rehab at Peabody if needed in 2011. A phase out of Peabody would be okay, as Schenley was phased out.

Don't allow for any 9th grade at Oliver in the fall of 2010. Close Oliver soon after. Begin rehab at Oliver if needed in 2011. A phase out of Oliver would be okay, as Schenley was phased out.

Build a new auditorium, gym and additional swimming pool at Reizenstein and keep that building for IB / Pgh Obama for the long term. But use the middle school gym and middle school pool for the middle school. Pgh Obama needs a high school gym, a high school pool, a high school auditorium and a high school cafeteria. There is room for building that addition on the grounds around the school. A parking deck with a ball field on the roof would also make sense too.

Put together an All City Girls Public High School for Peabody and an All City Boys Public High School for Oliver. After five years of operation at the same site, flip the boys and girls locations.

Make Westinghouse a fantastic, All City CTE High School. Do Big Visions, or year-round programs, and other community services at Westinghouse too. Both academics and trades should occur at Westinghouse High School. Make it special.

Westinghouse can be for most of the CTE majors, but no need to make it for all of them. Keep auto body at Brashear, for example. Keep Engineering at Allderdice. Boys who take robotic could still come to Peabody if necessary for those robitic classes.

If a fix up of Perry is needed, then move the seniors out of the building and take half as many freshmen for the next year so as to make some extra space in the school for rehab. Boxing days can work like the fix up at Sci Tech now underway.

If a rehab of Perry is needed, move the seniors of Perry out of the building to Langley or to the RMU building downtown.

Make U-Prep a middle school mainly -- and -- a place for high school with only special requirements, such as credit recovery and early exit.

Keep the bulk of the schools as is for grades K to 8. Jamming grades 6, 7 and 8 into Westinghouse for gender specific academies causes disruption of the younger schools.

Don't do anything without city-wide discussions and without thinking it through from start to finish.


Questioner said...

A lot of interesting ideas, in addition to a good clarification of the OEEP's recommendations. If gender specific education does have benefits for some students, why limit it to (and require it for) students in a certain feeder pattern? This is an option that really calls for choice. There are also legal issues with making gender spcific education mandatory. Keeping IB at Reizenstein (with modifications) is also worth real consideration as a way to help it develop into a true all city magnet.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Exactly. Thanks for the kind words.

I love concept of the introduction of gender specific schools -- by campus. But by all means, that needs to be a CHOICE. I would HATE to force kids and families into a school where there were only boys or only girls.

So, this is why I am also so supportive of the elimination of all FEEDER PATTERNS.

Kids from the east section of the city should not be forced into a guys academy, for example, because of where they have their official address.

But, kids from the east section that want to go to an all boys city-wide magnet high school should be able to choose to go there. That would be a huge option and a great addition to our city's educational landscape. Especially if that school is going to move to another part of the city in the future.

Don't go to that school because it is near your house. Go to that school because you want to go to that school. Furthermore, there will come a day when that school may not be near your house.