Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recap: Final Public Hearing for Pittsburgh Public Schools in its Hiring Quest for a New Superintendent.

Replacing the retiring Linda Lane can be an opportunity to recreate Pittsburgh recreation. We're a sports and river town and should use our swim pools.

From Mark Rauterkus,, varsity swim coach at Obama Academy and leader of the PPS Summer Dreamers Swim & Water Polo Camp with the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation

On Thursday night, January 28, 2016, right after our home swim meet at Pittsburgh Obama against South Fayette, I dashed over to U-Prep for the public hearing concerning the search for the new PPS superintendent of schools. We lost the swim meets, but game them a good scare. One new school record was set by Obama sophomore, Sead N, leading off the 400 free relay in a 49.

I was speaker 13 and took some notes as the others before me gave the school board their thoughts. It was wild to hear what the others would say as nearly everyone else had statements that resonated with my message too. What they want, and what I want, are identical in terms of values and vision.

Pittsburgh Public Schools needs to make an overhaul to its sports and after-school programs.

Two years ago, the wake of Doctor Linda Lane's state of the district speech when she said she wanted to cut a number of sports from the budget, I released a position paper. Thankfully, those cuts never occurred. Now that there are some new board members, it is prudent to re-introduce this document again to get them aware of these situations.

When Mark Roosevelt became superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, a few of us shared concerns with him. Mr. Roosevelt, a former tennis player, understood the value of sports. To his credit, he was in agreement but said sports reform and athletics were not a priority – yet. He had bigger problems: principal accountability, teacher evaluations and contracts, merit pay, and of course, right-sizing. Nothing changed for years. Then, finally, Mark Roosevelt sent me an email around New Years Day and he promised me that sports reform was coming off the back burner. Wow!

A study was done on Title IX, a consultant was hired with grant money. A committee was established and meetings were held. Real issues were talked about. Mark Roosevelt came to a meeting with about 35 people, VIPs in PPS in terms of coaching, sports, security, transportation, administration, principals, and said, “I'm sorry.” Roosevelt apologized for the terrible treatment and lack of support his administration had given throughout the years to sports and athletics. He had seen the light and now understood what was happening with PPS and how many of the pitfalls could be rectified through a more robust attention to these areas. Improvements in school spirit, attendance, grades, student health, graduation rates, discipline and scholarships are evident. I was so excited to hear of the new change in direction and within the month, Mark Roosevelt resigned and took a new job at a college in Ohio.

Linda Lane was hired by the board without interviewing anyone else so as to sustain the changes Mark Roosevelt was championing in PPS. But sadly, she failed and fumbled the whole sports reform movement. She was clueless. She pulled the plug and wouldn't do anything else in this regard except cut and starve.

When Dr. Lane gave her State of the District speech at CAPA in the fall of 2013, she talked about saving $600,000 from a budget by cutting some sports and all intramural programs and upgrading computers less frequently. That's some line item: Sports and technology upgrades for $600,000 savings. That move seemed to be a surprise to everyone, even within PPS, who had worked on sports reform. I pushed back with a position paper, “Fewer sports alternatives,” and the cuts to the budget never materialized, thankfully, due in great part by board members who knew better. Two years later in the fall of 2015, the PA auditor general and city controller told the newspapers of a PPS surplus of more than $120-million. Go figure.

The first suggestion in the position paper reads: PPS Superintendent, Doctor Linda Lane, should re-establish our Athletic Reform Task Force. Suggestion #1b: This position paper can fill the early agenda for task force meetings. Suggestion #1c: The next task force should include a research component. Examine student data along with Pittsburgh Promise data.

Some other of my favorite suggestions to PPS administrators include the establishment of PPS H2O for city-wide aquatics, an All-City Sports Camp from May to September and the formation of a private-public partnership, an Olympic Sports Division, to manage the scholastic sports of Swimming, X-Country, Track-and-Field, Tennis and intramural programs. After a three month wait, I finally did have one 30-minute meeting with Dara Ware Allen, PPS Administrator in charge of all student services (including athletics). She hadn't even read the position paper. No follow up since.

Linda Lane's Administration lacks leadership in terms of sports, after-school and community building – that's my top concern with PPS.

With the superintendent search, and new board members, it is time to double down. I want to re-visit the 2014 position paper and to insure the new PPS Board Members see it. But I am releasing a new document, a new vision. We can build upon our Summer Dreamers experiences with Swim & Water Polo and turn them into Year-Round Achievers. Let's train 250 new lifeguards in the next five years. You know, PPS has 14 indoor swim pools and there was a time a few years ago when every pool was closed all summer long. We ran the numbers, we have the opportunity to train 6,000 students a year in a five-week Swim & Water Polo Camp. We can teach every kid in PPS how to swim. And, we already have these facilities. They are too often closed. And, these plans are affordable. The pools are there. The water awaits. The plans call for no extra time for custodians. Done well, I expect sensational health benefits and community school interactions.

In the final public hearing concerning input for the new superintendent search, I was the 13th speaker. Every other speaker that came to the microphone to share insights had common ground with my central message as well.

Speaker #1 said: Services and support are not in place in PPS.

Speaker #2, a young woman, remembered that the only thing she was jazzed about at Allderdice through 9th, 10th, and 11th grade was her involvement in marching band. That experience kept her going through high school.

Speaker #3 works as a professional in out-of-school time activities as a community-based provider. She wants PPS to embrace partnerships and have that as a skill-set. The new superintendent needs to have a “track record” (pun to me) and display “small wins” in after-school programming. Well, I want big wins.

Speaker #4, an 8th grade student in Higher Achievement, spoke of the need for a fresh environment. In past years I coached water polo with students in Higher Achievement. Of course, that's fresh!

Speaker #5, a 7th grade student, wants communication skills and respect in communities.

Speaker #6, Hill District Economic Council spoke of being healthy. Wishing for transforming students, leadership, innovation. Athletic do that.

Speaker #7, a Pitt Education Professor and a parent spoke about deep and sustaining partnerships. Pittsburgh has an incredibly rich network. Civic and community engagement are needed and golly, she said that PPS often seems as if it does not want input. Spot on!

Speaker #8, Sala Udin, wants to see someone articulate a strategy. That's exactly what the position paper did. That's exactly what the Sports Reform Task Force did. That's what was ignored by PPS. Sala wants a “turn around” and I do too. We'll even teach flip turns! Yes, Sala, Pittsburgh is a segregated city with a large number of poor people. That's why we are excited to do water polo in the Hill District's Ammon Swim Pool again in the summer of 2016 and champion swimming and water polo, activities that don't cost much beyond having swim suits.

Speaker #9 wants community schools and job training for parents. I've been working with the Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center, but that's not the social skills job training that is really desired. But the new document speaks of community fitness for the parents and guardians of the students we coach. I want adults to start to train when their kids are youngsters so that a few years later as the kids are in high school we can kayak together in our rivers.

Speaker #10, the President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers hit a home run and made mention of the word “athletics.” She wants none of this as an “after-thought. Rather, authentic working together is desired. Bravo.

Speaker #11, a U-Prep teacher, Chris, made mention that Pittsburgh has been a sports town with some graduates in the NFL and NBA. Who is going to stand up and take the heat, he asks? I think we teach that in athletics too.

Speaker #12, Fred Logan of Homewood, wants the PSCC (Parent School Community Councils) to return with gusto. And our sports boosters, sports leagues and sports advocate efforts should be a part of those PSCC gatherings, perhaps bringing purpose for some to show up and get more involved.

I spoke at #13.

Speaker #14 ranted about knowledge being power. Learn everything and many things. “We should do better than that so our kids can survive in the world.” Learning to swim is a survival skill.

Speaker #15, a Linden teacher and advocate with gifted referrals wants a universal screening so that all the kids who qualify as gifted get an invite to the Pittsburgh Gifted Center. Of course, all the kids should have some of the same opportunities. We could tie a universal gifted screening approach to a mission to have universal swimming lessons.

Speaker #16, Obama Academy senior, spoke of Teen Block and speaking up with student voices. The most popular messages among the kids have been about school starting too early and PPS teaching the whole person. I just released a new video about the AM Swim Practices we have at 6 am. And, I'm a big fan of holistic coaching.

Speaker #17, a U-Prep junior, a young Mr. Sanders, wants to be an entrepreneur. His personal finance class doesn't have a stable teacher and there are many faculty who seem to change often. The lunches do not seem to be nutritional and he and his classmates do not seem to be energized after eating. With athletes, great nutrition is vital. With growing kids, nutrition matters. I also expect that with more athletes, we'll diminish violence. Learning to play well with others is a central theme we should embrace often.

Speaker #18, a parent wants to develop amazing adults and wants inclusion with the disability community. Unemployment is at 70% in that sector, and teaching needs to be visual, auditory and kinetic.

Speaker #19, Ron Lawrence, 100-Black Men and an A+ Schools board member is one I want to get to meet. Closing the achievement gap is important. That achievement gap happens at the swim pool too.

Speaker #20, Education Rights Network advocate wants to end that pipeline to prison. I agree, the PPS administrative cabinet should have a commitment to include an administrator to work full time on efforts to better support those with disabilities. Another after-thought it seems.

Speaker #21, Kenneth, a long-time community activist and friend wants student government and school newspapers to be a first contact with visitors to the school. The newspapers teach ethics and are a place to get focus in a crisis. What's going on should be written about and he feels Mark Roosevelt was a terrible person, especially as he sold off the printing presses in all the schools.

Speaker #22, Tim Stevens, spoke and sang of his days in the U-Prep school, site of the meeting, as it was then called Herron Hill. He spoke at a past meeting and he highlighted the slogan above the stage, “We are all learning.” Enough said.

Speaker #23, Chris Moore, the new U-Prep principal, a former teacher at Schenley, is back in PPS and he feels the new superintendent should be one who is “called” to the job. That is a great trait. He also says that the new superintendent should have the discipline to put students first as he or she makes decisions. I got to chat for a minute after the meeting with the new principal. He'll help to get the word out to the students about the opportunities to play water polo in the neighborhood on Fridays at the Thelma Lovette YMCA.

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