Monday, November 07, 2005

Analysis: Closing plan may start new era for city schools

This statement is a little out of context, in my humble opinion.
Analysis: Closing plan may start new era for city schools He has said right-sizing is part of a broader vision for overhauling the district. He clearly plans to do this once, do it in a big way and move on.

'He doesn't want to go back in a year or two and close more schools,' Mr. Sternberg said. 'He wants this to be what has to be done. Frankly, it needs to be done this way.'
We are going to need to go back and close some more schools in a year or two. The high schools are not being looked at in this round of closings and retoolings. The plan slated for release this week attacks at the elementary and middle school levels. The high schools plan is for another year.

And, should this plan not work out -- other changes are going to be necessary. I think that this plan has a lot of accountability. And, if certain schools do well while others flounder, again, the ax will swing again.

Great. Let's think again, and again. I don't mean to say we'll back track. Rather, we'll be flexibile from this moment forward and do the dance that needs to be done -- for the sake of the kids that are in the classrooms today.

The biggest fear among the parents is that this generation of kids are going to be lost -- too.

Now that I'm talking about high schools, while the others are yet to start -- here is one bold plan that I'd consider.

Turn Peabody and Westinghouse into single gender high schools. Put the boys in one school and the girls in another school.

With single-gender schools, among other benefits, Central Catholic High School would gain a public school rival. Same too for Oakland Catholic.

Let's talk about this again in 2006 -- after we come to understand the new plan this week for the little ones.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Analysis: Closing plan may start new era for city schools

Sunday, November 06, 2005
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

John Beale, Post-Gazette
Mark Roosevelt meets the public -- The great-grandson of the Rough Rider is making his own charge up San Juan Hill.
Click photo for larger image.

The school-closing plan Superintendent Mark Roosevelt will unveil Wednesday could mark a new era for the city district in which decision-making is insulated from -- instead of dominated by -- horsetrading and backroom deals.

The "right-sizing" plan, which for the first time uses student achievement data to make decisions, is a crucial test of the new superintendent's leadership and the school board's willingness to suspend the kind of politicking that's derailed previous reorganizations.

The district has excess capacity at every level -- 22,100 seats for 15,000 elementary students, 9,700 seats for 6,000 middle-school students and 11,700 seats for 9,700 high-school students. Mr. Roosevelt has said he won't close any high schools.

While details remain secret, Mr. Roosevelt has portrayed the plan as addition by subtraction, saying he'd move students to better schools and re-invest some of the savings from school closings into new programs.

Already, the plan has caused a stir.

Never before has a city schools superintendent systematically used student performance data to analyze schools' effectiveness and decide which of 86 schools to close. Never before have parents, community groups and board members been so strongly encouraged to set aside neighborhood concerns and consider the needs of the district as a whole. Never before has a superintendent so insulated himself from pressure to save certain schools.

But then, more is at stake than before.

Low standardized-test scores have caught the attention of the state Department of Education, which, if the district doesn't improve, could usurp local control of district affairs as state overseers have done with the financially troubled city of Pittsburgh. Nobody -- administrators, board, parents, community groups -- wants that.

That's the big stick Mr. Roosevelt has wielded before prospective critics as he made educational enhancement the cornerstone of a realignment plan developed with hard, cold data. Come fall 2006, he has pledged, displaced students will move to higher-performing schools or enroll in reconstituted schools with enhanced programs.

He has used a Rand Corp. analysis of student data to separate the good schools from the bad and even to distinguish schools that look good from schools that truly boost student achievement over time. Rand developed a system for ranking schools on a 1-to-5 scale. The ratings may be released with the reorganization plan Wednesday.

The age, size and condition of buildings remain considerations in restructuring a district that next year faces a $47 million operating deficit, enough to drain the district's reserve fund and leave a $6 million shortfall. But Mr. Roosevelt's primary goal is to close lower-performing schools.

If he can't do that in certain parts of the city, he'll reconstitute bad schools as "accelerated achievement academies." These educational boot camps would offer more rigorous course work, longer school days and teaching practices proven effective elsewhere.

Mr. Roosevelt, great-grandson of Rough Rider and President Theodore Roosevelt, is making his own charge up San Juan Hill. He wants to be an agent of change in a city that resists it.

Esther L. Bush, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Pittsburgh, said she expects to be among many Pittsburghers disliking portions of the plan.

"I think Mark has said repeatedly that there's enough change in there for everybody to be mad," Ms. Bush said. "But if everybody likes 70 percent of it, we've won."

Mr. Roosevelt's plan isn't only about changing the configuration of a school system. It's potentially about changing the way the district, indeed the region, operates.

In the city school district, board members and neighborhood groups have fought to save schools that outsiders wouldn't think twice about closing. Ms. Bush said she's heard Mr. Roosevelt say the district is 10 years behind bringing classroom capacity in line with student enrollment.

During previous attempts to close schools, board members set upon the superintendent's wish list like a pack of hounds and sometimes doctored it even before the superintendent had the chance to go public with the plan. The politicking sometimes continued until the moment the board voted.

Last year, the board voted to close 12 schools. Three other elementary schools were spared at the last minute, and two schools the board voted to close are still open.

A botched effort, board member Theresa Colaizzi has said.

Richard Sternberg, principal of Grandview Elementary in Allentown and president of Pittsburgh Administrators Association, said Mr. Roosevelt's data-driven approach to school reorganization was "refreshing." Ms. Bush described it as "rational."

In three months as superintendent, his first experience in school management, the Harvard-educated, former Massachusetts lawmaker has made strides neutralizing his adopted city's parochial politics.

He's had help from school board member Alex Matthews, who convinced his colleagues to cast an up-or-down vote on the school-closing plan Mr. Roosevelt puts before them. In a break with tradition, board members won't be able to go over the list school-by-school and knock pet buildings off the list for political reasons.

After releasing the plan Wednesday, Mr. Roosevelt could make changes based on input he receives during the 90-day public comment period. But once he presents it to the board in February, members must accept or reject it as is.

That isn't the only way Mr. Roosevelt has been insulated from political pressure. He decided, without asking permission, to withhold details from the board until hours before he unveils the plan.

He has said right-sizing is part of a broader vision for overhauling the district. He clearly plans to do this once, do it in a big way and move on.

"He doesn't want to go back in a year or two and close more schools," Mr. Sternberg said. "He wants this to be what has to be done. Frankly, it needs to be done this way."

Mr. Roosevelt must convince at least five of nine board members to vote for a plan likely to scuttle some of the schools dearest to them.

He must sell staffing and workplace changes to the 4,200-strong Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

And he must endure the mandated public comment period, during which neighborhood and parent groups will fight for threatened schools. If the board votes down the plan, or it goes awry, Mr. Roosevelt likely will be sent back to the drawing board without his fragile mandate.

Randall Taylor and Mark Brentley Sr., the two board members who voted against up-or-down consideration of the school-closing plan, said they feared giving the superintendent too much authority and relinquishing what they see as their duty to vet the plan. Ms. Colaizzi voted for Mr. Matthews' proposal but warned she might be the first to vote against Mr. Roosevelt's plan.

Mr. Matthews and member Patrick Dowd said the board must halt its habit of micromanaging, show confidence in Mr. Roosevelt and hold him accountable if the plan fails.

The board has given Mr. Roosevelt enough rope to lasso a runaway district. Or to hang himself.

(Joe Smydo can be reached at or 412-263-1548.)