From: Superintendent Hamlet <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Jun 13, 2019 at 6:15 PM
Subject: Nurture, Invest, Lead: Dr. Hamlet Reflects on the 2018-2019 School Year
To: Superintendent Hamlet <email@example.com>
As our students and staff begin summer break, I'd like to take this opportunity to update you on work accomplished by staff and teachers and share more efforts underway this summer to continually raise the bar on student outcomes.
For the start of the 2018-19 school year, we rolled out new curricula in Algebra and K-5 Mathematics, building off recent curriculum updates in English Language Arts. Our 60 academic coaches continued to help teachers adapt and learn new, proven techniques to improve achievement. We launched programs that reduced out of school suspensions significantly and invested in education technology to help us track student achievement in real time and guide students as they navigate the college admission process.
Already, students are responding. The percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced on the 2018 PSSA increased on all three exams. Performance of our African American students also increased on all three PSSA exams. Graduation rates improved for all students by 10.4 percent to 80.8 percent in 2017. Additionally, students of both genders and African American students saw increases. In fact, the graduation rate for African American students in PPS surpassed the state by 3.7 percent.
We're not going to turn around achievement overnight, but these gains provide evidence that our strategic plan is guiding us in the right direction.
Implementation of our strategic plan focused on the most vulnerable students.
We had to go back to basics and make sure our students are nurtured, so they are ready to learn. When I became superintendent, I learned that schools in many disadvantaged neighborhoods didn't have nurses or librarians. Graduation rates needed improvement, especially among our African American males and the out of school suspension rate was one of the highest in the state. ESL students, one of our District's fastest growing populations, were underserved. We increased translation supports and moved students out of sheltered ESL classrooms and into spaces where they can find a balance of support and challenge.
Now, in addition to eight community schools, all campuses have access to nurses and at least half-day librarians. This school year, we completed the implementation of Positive Behavior and Intervention Support (PBIS) and Restorative Practices to all 54 school buildings. Instead of the first line of defense being suspension, students now have trained staff focused on coping skills and conflict resolution.
The state didn't think we could roll PBIS out to all schools this quickly, but having successfully done so with colleges in my former district, I was confident in our ability to accomplish this goal. More importantly, we couldn't wait because for every year we waited, we risk another student leaving school and potentially winding up perpetuating the poverty cycle or worse. School-age children belong in school, focused on learning not on the streets, where they must focus on survival. As a result, the number of days students have missed school due to suspension has declined by more than 1,500 days.
This school year, in addition to investing in new curricula, we also invested in educational technology. We know that technology has the potential to become the great equalizer in bridging the achievement gap among students from underserved populations. In a world where students will be expected to use technology to find unfamiliar locations, look up information, or work with other people, we must prepare them accordingly.
Through the use of technology, we are able to engage students in their learning, provide much-needed intervention and enrichment, assess academic progress, and provide teachers valuable data to identify areas of need while cultivating innovative ways to improve teaching and learning.
One of these investments, called Naviance, offers college and career planning for middle and high school students. The software helps guidance counselors walk students through the process of identifying their strengths and interests and exploring careers and colleges to create personalized plans for life beyond high school. Our District now joins a growing number of large public-school systems across the country, including some of the largest urban districts which have embraced this platform as a proven career readiness tool.
Our quest to improve student achievement was laid with a strong foundation. You may remember that in 2016, I ordered the most in-depth third-party analysis of the Pittsburgh Public Schools system. I was hearing from stakeholders like you, including foundation leaders and parents, that the District was stuck. And the numbers reinforced what I was hearing. So, we had to do a deep dive. This analysis included 137 recommendations. It's overwhelming. But we took this analysis, and we met with thousands of parents, staff, and community members to form our strategic plan, Expect Great Things. So far, 72 of the recommendations have been fully implemented.
I'd like you to know that my staff and I are committed to working tirelessly toward completing more recommendations. Here are some efforts on our summer agenda:
- The rollout of On Track to Equity, a robust plan that details intentional efforts underway to eliminate racial disparity in achievement levels of African American students. Equity is one of four strategic themes in our strategic plan. The plan meets a requirement of our MOU with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to deliver, in writing to the Equity Advisory Panel (EAP), an implementation plan that details, "the action steps which the District will take in order to accomplish the terms of the MOU." We view the completion of the plan as an opportunity to move beyond compliance to demonstrate for all stakeholders our commitment to reaching our desired outcomes for students. We continue to finalize the plan with the EAP and expect to release a final plan to the public this summer.
- Implementation of Let's Talk! This interactive platform will streamline our Parent Hotline, Call Center calls and emails as well as all PPS social media chatter into one cohesive Dashboard. K12 Insight will provide onsite training of the 'Let's Talk!' platform and professional development on best practices in customer service. The platform will automatically assign ownership of all cases and issue alerts to the assigned staff, as well as alerting leadership with any significant concerns that may be arising. By housing all stakeholder communications in one centralized dashboard this will allow the District to enhance our customer service and to engage our community as a whole.
- The 2nd Annual Summer Leadership Academy's theme is Removing Barriers to Advance Teaching and Learning. The goal of the Summer Leadership Academy is to utilize district talent as an intentional capacity building strategy to strengthen systemic implementation of research-based pedagogical practices all aimed at advancing teaching, learning, and student outcomes. The Leadership Academy will provide School Leadership teams with the opportunity to participate in an intense professional growth experience.
While we're moving full steam ahead, we must recognize that we can't always rush progress. Consistent nurturing, investment and leadership are the key ingredients that will get our students where we know they can be, reaching their highest and greatest potential.
Dr. Anthony D. Hamlet
Superintendent of Schools
Pittsburgh Public Schools
412-529-3600 (W) | 412-622-3604 (F) |firstname.lastname@example.org