A crisis in the Pittsburgh Public Schools led to the creation of A+ Schools in 2004. Two years earlier, three major Pittsburgh foundations withdrew financial support from school district — prompting then mayor Tom Murphy to establish the Commission on Public Education to address the situation and make recommendations. The Commission’s report called for the formation of an organization to provide the leadership needed for school reform. A+ Schools became that organization.
A+ Schools began as an independent, non-profit community advocate for improved student achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools. Its goal was to be a community force advancing the highest educational achievement for every public school student and to produce successive generations of young people who thrive, and who build their families and future in Pittsburgh.
Under the guidance of Executive Director Carey Harris, A+ Schools’ work over the next eight years focused on providing objective oversight and support for school improvement initiatives while serving as a non-partisan advocate, resource and catalyst for change. Key strategies included collecting critical data, informing the public and mobilizing the community to take an active role in improving Pittsburgh’s schools.
During this time, A+ Schools launched its annual Report to the Community, the Board Watch, School Works and TeenBloc programs, and rallied the community through a Voter Education Campaign, Community Campaign for Empowering Effective Teachers and meetings on school budget cuts.
In April 2012, A+ Schools adopted a new strategic plan (download the PDF) shifting its focus through 2015 to have more impact and accelerate the pace of change in closing the racial achievement gap in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This new direction positions A+ Schools to explicitly champion educational equity as its core purpose and target its efforts to remove any barriers to equity in city schools.
Because quality classroom teaching is the most important school-based factor in student learning — and, therefore, a core equity issue — A+ decided to focus on building community support demanding that the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers adopt policies and practices that ensure a great teacher for every child, every day, in every class.
This strategic shift became evident during 2012 PPS budget cuts when A+ Schools took an active role in demanding that Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers work together to “Make Great Teaching Count” by making effective teaching a factor in deciding which teachers to furlough and where teachers teach.
Voicing concerns about equity and the impact teacher layoffs based solely on seniority would have on vulnerable schools and vulnerable, at-risk students, A+ Schools challenged the community to take action via emails, letters to the editor, social media and a Rally for Students.
Although nearly 300 teachers ultimately were laid off based only on seniority, A+ Schools vowed to continue pushing for measures that ensure every student benefits from great teaching and continue building and channeling parent, student and community demand for great teaching.
A+ Schools is an independent community advocate for equity and excellence in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.