Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Schools meeting at Bloomfield-Garfield Corp concerning Peabody

Just back from a night of talking about schools with some of the top administrators from the Pgh Public School district, a group of citizens and many others from all sorts of sectors (non-profits, politicals, police, students, human services, neighborhoods, bloggers, advocates, etc.).

The three Pgh Public School administrators presented data. They came to facilitate with facts. They delivered the history. They did their jobs. They are like the -- and this got me into trouble, sadly -- the ambassadors. But, something was missing tonight. Something is missing as we try to understand and fix these situations with our schools and the overall district.

For starters, the school board was missing. No board members were present. Oh well. That's okay as next week's meeting is already scheduled and a board member is slated to attend, speak, and reply to questions. Mr. Sumpter is waiting in the wings. So, the board gets a pass for not being at tonight's meeting.

But to be honest, I think I might have seen, out of the corner of my eye, a guy with a frumpy hat that could have been ex-Board President, Bill Isler. He might have even been at the meeting for a while. But, if he was, he didn't speak. Furthermore, another that was seen for sure, and who didn't speak, was former board member and present city councilman, Patrick Dowd, Ph.D.

If the three top administrators in the district are the ambassadors, then Mark Roosevelt, the Pgh Public Schools Superintendent, is the President or "head of state."

To be clear -- and not name call -- Mark Roosevelt is the Superintendent of Schools. The high ranking and fine school administrators are not the Superintendent.

The missing element is big. It goes to some of the major disconnect among various people.

We need a crystal ball that can look into the future. We need a wizard to look into that ball and make sense out of the things yet to come. We need a story to be shared, with various characters, each woven into this fantasy landscape, connected but yet floating deeply into the future. We need some predictive powers and a voice to translate the unfolding, long-term future, into human speech without the educational jargon. This unfolding dream would then be -- not so much announced -- but simply verbalized. This saga of years to come would be an open book and a peek into the open mind of what is possible and practical.

To be sure, the crystal ball isn't the key. But the story teller is. The vision needs to be spoken from the perspective of the leader.

Leaders lead. Leaders lead more than just the top administrators who are on paid staff. Great leaders can lead and rally the public, yet alone the boosters, to follow.

Pittsburgh's citizens and parents need a visionary leader to not only chart the course for school reform, but to stand on the helm and feel the spray, wind and ship with observers cheering and jeering.

The captain's game plan -- err -- the Superintendent's course of academic leadership, is taking us all on a journey. We're moving. We're underway and gaining speed. But, we're not certain where we're headed.

There is a visionary leadership void. There are stories that are not being told.

Many of the facts and figures, as well as landmarks, are obvious. Data is important. The school administrators are getting much better grip on those benchmarks. We all agree that the past is the past and there have been some bumpy times. Fixing blame is not productive to a district that has had its superintendent for more than three years now. We all want change.

Furthermore, we all want great schools. Excellence for all is a nice buzz phrase. We all have high aspirations for the academics and the opportunities. Learning excites us. We are hooked on the whole knowledge is power things so we can all have productive lives and a vibrant community with smart, bright, neighbors and fellow citizens.

We're missing the part where we have to connect the dots.

The story of the superintendent -- from his mouth to our computer screens and ears -- has to be told so we can connect the dots to the future, given the present.

This is a burden for the superintendent -- not the elected school board, nor the hired school administrators and principals. The superintendent runs the show here. He has the power as he earned the trust of the members on the school board. The people on the school board are going to give their votes to the superintendent. If the administration wants something, and if the administration works those wants into a position, then the board will grant those powers to the superintendent.

Some on the board are going to grumble. But, by and large, with all the powers of the paid staff at his command, the school board can deliver the five votes for the superintendent.

So, the person at the helm of this district is, without doubt, the Superintendent, Mark Roosevelt.

Pittsburgh people are fine with commanding leaders. We love it when coaches call the plays. We are fine when QBs take charge of the huddle and even switch plays at the line of scrimmage. We are used to company bosses telling union folks this is what is going to happen -- let's make it happen so we can get the jobs done, get home in one piece, and insert value into our lives.

The people of Pittsburgh are, perhaps, some of the greatest boosters the world has ever seen. We are supporters. We'll cheer. We'll watch. We'll dance when it is time to do so.

Pittsburgh can go with the flow too. We know that rivers take turns. We can bend in the wind. We know how to adjust with both large and small shocks to the system. We don't like change for the sake of change -- and we hate bad change. But good change -- that's sweet for us.

The extra effort that we need right now is with both the playbook and the game plan. Its hidden to us, now, sadly. It is somewhere, we expect.

Case in point: Eighth graders now entering their second semester should have a clue as to what's going to unfold for next year -- as in August 2009. Some do. Some don't. The community in and around Peabody High School are wondering if the Pgh Public School's central administration is going to issue a letter next week, or perhaps the week after, that says there will NOT be any new students entering Peabody in the fall of 2009 as 9th graders. Bang. The doors of the school could shut, in a slow death, with the last class to graduate be the one's in 9th grade now.

Well, well, well. What's happening.

This isn't new to us. Pittsburgh has seen many other great things die off. Some naturally. Some by the force of a choke hold. Some by the curse of a rumor that resonates.

South Vo Tech High School was closed after years of rumors about its eventual death. It died on the vine long before the formal vote to close it was taken. Even then, the vote to close the school in August came as late as June. It was a rushed vote. But it was a protracted death. The good teachers saw the writing on the wall. They left earlier, as they could. The wise families knew that South Vo Tech was getting marginal funding and a big crisis loomed large if you put your kid into that school.

Nobody wants to be in a 4-year school and have the floor pulled out from you. Especially a carpenter would know how to judge the stability of the classroom around you and your buddies.

Years prior, people of the eastern part of the city saw how East Hills Elem. School was starved and closed over time. People pulled in. People pulled out. Most of the voting happens with the feet.

Schenley's ordeal is impossible to ignore. But, let's get back to the one missing element, the crystal ball and the vision statements of a game plan and playbook.

How can the I.B. program move into Peabody High School in three years, while the local kids get a fair shake?

How can families plan for schools next year, year after, and so on -- for Joe, Jane, Jack, Jill, James, Jimmy and Jenny. They all are of different ages and they all are from different backgrounds. Plus, they all have different skills and interests.

There are real stories to be told about all of our kids -- fictional or otherwise.

These are the dots that we need to hear are being connected by those who have the rule book, play book and game plans for our kids.

We just really want to cheer the kids and their coaches on to victory. And, we want to have fun -- on the road to the Super Bowl -- err -- on the road to the life with our families, friends, and their buddies.

Here is how it could work. Let's say we, hypothetically, made these adjustments and blah, blah, blah. What do you think? Can it be done? We figure those costs are going to be $XYZ.

Here is another matter in another neighborhood. Are we ...? What are we missing?

The playbook needs to be more revealing than these three plays:
1. Give Sam the ball. (Sam is heading up the new Science and Technology Jr/Sr High School.)
2. Give Cate the ball. (She is heading up the new I.B. Jr./Sr. High.)
3. Stiff arm opposition. (If not running play #1 and play #2.)

Of course Mark Roosevelt's playbook is more than that above. Sure, he has done some wonderful things. The whole Principal training, evaluation and re-do is monumental. Granted. The whole Pgh Promise is way more than the $500 cardboard check that the PFT gave on day one. Whippie! We got a 2-hour delay for Monday, Feb 2, too. Score that as well. But now what?

Peabody, Schenley, Reisenstein are big harry deals. I.B. folks issued their report and we've not heard anything from that missing crystal ball. Where is the wizard? What's he thinking about when it comes to getting these kids around town and into classrooms in six months?

I think that the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp folks have done a wonderful thing to step up and do the engagement efforts for the next looming ax swings. They are going to organize and mobalize in their/our own way at our own pace. The demand includes coolaboration.

But frankly, I think that coolaboration isn't next. The meaningful give-and-take comes after we hear the vision. The guy at the helm (Mark Roosevelt) has to sell the dream of this short and mid-range journey. Dots need to be connected. Then all the dots on the landscape need to be woven on the final canvas. It is a draft. We'll do the coloring, together, later. But, we'd like to know better as to what is unfolding.

Do the ALAs, K-8s, K-6s, 6-12s, boutique schools all work? Do the 'drop-out factories' get an overhaul or not? Unknown questions linger about sports management at Westinghouse. Are you serious? Can CAPA really work as 6-12 downtown, next to the strip club, with yellow buses, with sports teams? What about a public boys school and public girls school (single gender schools) as an option for certain kids so as to have direct competition for Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic. We want afterschool, weekends and summers to be filled with robust programs and challenges for our kids and our communities -- like is the case in suburban districts. Our bands and ball teams and boosters are hurting, and they don't need to be.

Parents are pushy. We don't have a whole career to see this wash out. We don't have test-tube kids who are practice children who can bank upon experimental gimmicks. We'll sign up. We'll enroll. We've done that. We'll stay for a spell. We'll even sign-up to teach and work in the district. Those applications are proven. But we're still waiting for the insights into the waiting list and the actual numbers matched with the slots available. That transparency is playbook stuff that should be part of the game-plan.

Let's overhaul the magnet application for next year next week, not in June. Let's hold a pow-wow on that while it is fresh in our heads and experiences. Don't print the books yet -- but let's edit them and seek additional comments. That's another play from the game-plan.

The stiff arm play needs to turn into a delegation of a project opportunity and effort.

The folks in the stands want to storm the field -- if only to listen to what is being talked about in the huddle.

I'll post some video of the meeting in a day or two. Stay tuned.

The Post-Gazette covered the meeting too and revealed the same need in its headline:

School officials stress fate of Peabody High still undecided: "School officials stress fate of Peabody High still undecided"

They are undecided. The uncertainty is a killer. They won't say. The doubt is a burden. The fear is mounting so as to be a crushing oppression. This is FUD 101. FUD = fear, uncertainty, doubt.

The fix is a look into a crystal ball. The solution is a vision story. The dream can be sold, and we'll stay on board as too many have already departed.

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials last night said they hadn't decided whether to close Pittsburgh Peabody High School, a school beset with dwindling enrollment and low achievement scores.

The officials' words offered a ray of hope to community members who want to save Peabody High in East Liberty or at least have a voice in deciding what to do with students in Peabody's feeder pattern.

"There's a lot of creative ways we can cut this," said Rick Flanagan, youth development director for Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., which called last night's community meeting in Garfield.

About 50 residents, city officials and representatives of civic groups attended.

A "site selection committee" appointed by district Superintendent Mark Roosevelt last month proposed making the Peabody building the permanent home of the new International Baccalaureate magnet.

The school board still must vote on the recommendation, a point Mr. Flanagan repeatedly emphasized.

The IB school will open in temporary quarters next school year and would, under the site committee's proposal, move to the Peabody building in East Liberty in 2012. The IB school eventually would serve 1,050 students in grades six through 12.

The committee didn't address the fate of Peabody High, fueling concerns that the district will close it and reassign students to another building, perhaps Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School in Homewood.

Officials last night insisted no decision had been made and said they're willing to consider the community's input.

"There has to be engagement of what people would want," Cate Reed, a school district project manager, told the gathering.

At the same time, however, the district put certain limits on the discussion.

Nancy Kodman, the district's executive director of strategic initiatives, said the Peabody building isn't big enough to accommodate Peabody High and the IB school. That raised the specter of at least a change in buildings for Peabody High.

Enrollment has dropped from about 710 students in 2003-04 to the current 489, and the number is projected to drop to 168 by 2014.

Officials said dwindling enrollment has made it difficult to offer a healthy mix of programs, and Ms. Kodman said the school's racial achievement gap and scores on state reading and math tests also are unacceptable.

Mr. Flanagan suggested that impending commercial and residential development in East Liberty, combined with a marketing push by the school district, could boost enrollment.

Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. will hold another community meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at its community center in Garfield. Mr. Flanagan said he also wants to take other steps to find out the Peabody community's demands.

"We need to survey parents," he said.
The survey of parents should ask what I'm asking too.

Question #1 of 2: Do you feel confident in the vision and dream of "Excellence for All."

This, I expect, would get okay grades. People want "Excellence for All." That is an easy place to get agreement. That would be good to know, in data, however.

Question #2 of 2: Do you confident in the administration's pathway and game plan for our schools and students in leading to a reformed and greatly improved school district?

That's where we've got a gap of understanding. That's our sticking point today in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

This is a situation that is now avoidable. It is time to put it all out there and all the elements on the table. This is the time to sell the dream and then respond to objections in a clear and open way with honest dialog with the superintendent.

He has to get us to a better place by planting seeds of the future in our imagination.

Mr. Roosevelt needs to put on a wizard's hat for a spell. A couple of meetings will seal the deal this winter. And, it can't be with some flunky pseudo journalist like Bill Flanigan or Marty Griffin or Jon Delano. We're not talking about fluff and sugar coated pills to swallow mumbo jumbo. Nor can this be done with a cardboard check of $500 for the Pittsburgh Promise handed over by the Pgh Federation of Teachers. We can't have cronie back-slapping.

Our kids, our neighborhoods, our city -- and our future is at stake. And parents need to know what is really going on. It is time for that tough love talk about the facts of life in the future that is before us.

This 'selling of the dream' is about the future. Since politics is about the future, this is too. This needs to be part political stump speech. This needs to be about a range of issues. This needs to be a state of the union address, blended with a call to action and an ask for confidence and trust because you see the future, and you know how to connect these dots like this, this, and this.

The audience will then shout out some suggestions. Requests. It is going to get messy. Citizens and taxpayers may say that the order is slightly not to our liking. We might say the range and scope is too great in some areas and too tiny in others.

I can't tolerate a year without afterschool activities at any school, for starters. We are not sure about the 6-7-and-8 in the same buildings as high schoolers. The RODGERS and CAPA merger is an uncertain quagmire that might be worthy of testing. But turning back has got to be on the table in due time too. The conditions for evaluation need to be stated in public, now, years before they are needed.

The fruitful back and forth between the superintendent and the city's parents and residents is necessary and it must follow the talk of the revealed vision.

1 comment:

Mark Rauterkus said...

Posted this at another blog, REFORM Pgh Now.

FUD = Fear, uncertainty, doubt.

We, Pittsburgh, must fight FUD. Some like to spread it, sadly.

So, I've called for vision salesmanship at my blog. We need to have Mark Roosevelt tell us what he sees as he looks into the crystal ball.

We agree that the present is NOT okay. We agree that the future must be great -- Excellence for all.

But, we don't have any agreement on the pathway to get from where we are to where we all want to be.

The journey needs a captain to guide the crew with confidence. We are ready to listen and help. But his connecting the dots descriptions and back-and-forth is absent.

See my rather long blog post to get my 'drift.' (PUN intended.)