Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New parents group wants city school board's ear

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A group of parents and taxpayers is coalescing around concerns about the Pittsburgh Public Schools' changes to middle grades and high schools.

Parents United for Responsible Educational Reform
introduced itself to the school board last night, saying it expects input into district initiatives and wants officials to answer a raft of questions about school changes.

The group sprang, in part, from some members' unsuccessful fight last school year to stop the closing of the Pittsburgh Schenley High School building. At the time, parents said the district didn't listen to their views or adequately plan for Schenley's dismantling.

Now, they're hoping an organized, unified voice will force officials to pay attention.

"PURE Reform's mission is to review district proposals for public school reform, ask relevant questions, pursue answers to those questions and in general seek transparency and effective public participation in the reform process. We act as a clearinghouse for parents to seek and share information," Annette Werner, a Shadyside resident and group steering committee member, said at a news conference outside district offices.

Later, at the school board's monthly public hearing, Ms. Werner said a commitment to public input only can help the district's leadership turn city schools around.

The district's six-year strategic plan, up for a board vote next month, emphasizes the importance of community input. Asked about the work PURE Reform plans to do, school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said, "I have no problem with it at all."

Ms. Werner said the group so far has interested "hundreds" of school supporters. It has a Web site at http://www.purereform.com.

Its concerns include whether schools configured for grades six through 12 are effective. The district is moving forward with plans for four such schools, including two that will absorb Schenley's student body.

The group also has questions about extracurricular activities in six through 12 schools, the district's system for evaluating principals and district enrollment decline. In all, 20 questions are posted on the group's Web site.

"Questions we have been asking in person, in the press, via e-mail, via letter and to the school board for more than a year have largely gone unanswered," Ms. Werner said before the hearing.

Ms. Werner said the group wants to work with district officials, not be in conflict with them. But she said the group intends to make an impact -- and get answers to those questions.

"We look forward to the district's response," she told the school board.

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