Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ideas from a citizen consultant to the PPS Board and Administration

Leslie V. Horne

NNACP Pittsburgh Branch

PPS Public Hearing Testimony

May 12, 2008

There is a crisis in the Accelerated Learning Academies. You recall that these were advertised as a giant step forward in eliminating the racial and socio-economic achievement gaps that are the shame of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. I am especially concerned about the state of the ALA’s because the vast majority of students in these schools are poor and/or African American.

My calling is to speak for those children.

The following are facts garnered from first hand sources in the ALA’s. The original posting for ALA administrators required a 3 year contract.

Proposed: Principals would be able to choose staff from a pool of candidates who wanted to work in an ALA. The difference in pay scale would attract the best and brightest. Principals were told that they would be able to staff their entire buildings without fear of cuts and that seniority and union issues would not be a concern because it was "new" model.

Reality: Principals were unable to hire clerical and custodial staff and many first choice staff selections were cut or bumped out of their positions by senior district employees who in most cases did not want to work in ALAs. Principals in most cases were left with third round choices or no choice at all. At one point, principals were meeting with human resources simply picking from a list of teachers that simply did not have positions anywhere in the district. These people only had to stay for one year (despite the promise that teachers had to commit to a three year contracts) and most of them transferred at the beginning of this year. Teachers can make more money attending a few workshops and working after-school programs.

Proposed: The original model had each ALA with a foreign language and some had Home Ec or computer classes.

Reality: These classes were cut due to either staffing and/or financial problems.

Proposed: Dr. Spampinato told the ALA principals that their budgets would not be cut during the first year.

Reality: She lost her position and budgets were cut when the other district schools made cuts. Proposed: Teachers would receive extensive in-service training on America’s Choice.

Reality: Most ALA staff did not receive adequate training on America's Choice. There were two full day sessions held in Oakland for staff. However, when the training took place, buildings were not completely staffed and in other cases people who went to the training were cut later in the year. Schools received improvement funds and money for "at risk" students but as all district schools get a portion of this funding it was not additional.

Proposed: ALAs receive money to buy classroom libraries.

Reality: This money was only available for the first year and it did not include enough copies for each student or adequate classroom sets.

Proposed: Instructional resources will be plentiful and available when needed.

Reality: The Ramp-up curriculum materials did not arrive to ALAs in a prompt manner. In several cases the books were weeks late and schools had to xerox them. This was true for some teacher materials too. When these materials arrived coaches and teachers found computational and editing errors.

Other problems that impacted the ALAs successful implementation: The America’s Choice Cluster Leader who was responsible for providing technical assistance to ALA math teachers resigned and ALAs went several weeks without a replacement. Principals had to make staffing changes to accommodate this program which proved to be inadequate for students that were in certain ability levels. Most of the ALAs decreased the number of these classes significantly this year. The America’s Choice support is provided by two cluster leaders who provide support one day a month to each of the Academies. This is inadequate.

Most ALAs are not air conditioned and start school in August. In some schools, rooms reach temps exceed 100 degrees during August and September.

The parent engagement piece is lacking because of the low pay scale and lack of qualifications required by this position. Parents of ALA students are not required to participate any more than other schools and do not have increased accountability.

Three ALA principals have either taken medical leaves or sabbaticals during the 2007-08 school year. A significant number of these principals are relatively new administrators. They feel threatened, not supported. And, the district may lose some of them who are dedicated and caring but frustrated and unappreciated. They are penalized for poor performance even when they have teachers who are on improvement plans and do not want to work in ALAs. The burden of the PA tenure law allows a bad teacher to stay in a classroom for TWO YEARS before firing. The ALAs have a lack of adequate support staff.

These schools are set up for failure. The NAACP will not accept inadequate education for our children. This is a promise.

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