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School Works Q&A

Q: What is School Works?

A: Launched in 2009, School Works is a community action research program sponsored by A+ Schools that uses teams of trained volunteers to interview Pittsburgh’s city school staff and collect data on staffing, training, coursework, support services, resources and learning opportunities for students. School Works is modeled after the successful Ready Schools Project conducted by D.C. Voice in Washington, D.C.

Q: Why is School Works necessary?

A: Equity and the achievement gap are central concerns for all who care about Pittsburgh Public Schools’ students. School Works allows members of the community to conduct confidential interviews with school staff throughout the school district and learn first-hand about the resources and opportunities that exist — or are needed — for students.

Q: How does School Works tie into the goals and mission of A+ Schools?

A: Our goal is to be a community force advancing the highest educational achievement and character development for every public school student. Through School Works, we collect reliable data about our schools directly from principals, counselors and teachers that can be used to take action. We work to inform and mobilize the public to hold both the schools and community accountable for providing high quality teaching and learning for all students.

Q: Who are the volunteers?

A: Volunteers are independent and neutral citizens who are recruited, trained and sent in teams to interview school staff each year. A+ Schools invites participation by all citizens who share our commitment to student achievement.

Q: How many volunteers have been involved in School Works?

A: Since 2009, the number of School Works volunteers mobilized by A+ Schools has doubled to more than 160 interviewers. Volunteers have interviewed principals, guidance counselors and teachers at 22 Pittsburgh middle and high schools.

Q: What kind of preparation or training is involved?

A: All School Works volunteers must participate in a training session led by A+ Schools. The training session covers volunteer responsibilities, instruction on how to use the survey, and an overview of what the collected data reveals about opportunities and resources for students.

Q: What exactly do School Works interviewers do?

A: During their 30-minute interviews, volunteers follow a checklist of questions, or interview instrument, to collect specific information regarding the learning conditions and opportunities that exist for the students in each school — the things that make them “work.” Volunteers are expected to remain neutral and objective while collecting information as researchers on behalf of A+ Schools. Principal, guidance counselor, teacher and volunteer evaluations indicate a high level of satisfaction with the experience.

Q: What kind of questions do they ask?

A: Our volunteers focus on such issues as the implementation of the initial parts of the Empowering Effective Teachers plan; the use of the RISE rubric as it relates to contributing to improving the quality of teaching; the ways in which all students access rigorous courses that prepare them for college or careers; how behavior is addressed and managed to create safe learning environments for all students; and the ways in which systems operate to engage and support students most likely to disengage.

Q: How were these questions developed?

A: A+ Schools staff members work with researchers, district administrators, and PFT leaders to develop questions for the interviews.

Q: When does the next round of recruitment, training and interviews begin?

A: Recruitment of School Works volunteers is ongoing with training sessions held in early fall. We conduct School Works interviews once during the school year.

Q: How many volunteers are involved in each interview?

A: We assign two to three volunteers per interview. One person asks questions, one person records the answer and the third person, if available, serves as an extra set of eyes and ears.

Q: How is the information tabulated and analyzed?

A: Volunteers bring the data they have collected to A+ Schools to be tabulated and analyzed.

Q: How is this information used?

A: Each year, we release the latest School Works data at community meetings. We engage the public in these meetings so they can participate in analyzing the information, prioritizing needs and forming recommendations for action aimed at improving the quality of education in all of our schools. Individual names and school names are always kept confidential.

Over the past three years, A+ Schools has hosted multiple community meetings — with nearly 600 people participating — to present and discuss the findings. These participants were polled about their view on priorities, which became the basis for the recommendations we made to the District. (Full reports from each meeting can be found at In the second year of School Works research, we found evidence that school practices changed in response to these recommendations and priorities.

Q: Is School Works meant to be an evaluation of schools?

A: No. This information is reported as a description of the overall conditions in high schools and middle schools, and not a school-by-school comparison or evaluation.

Q: What are the bottom line results A+ Schools hopes to achieve through School Works?

A: As a community advocate for equity and excellence in public education, A+ Schools seeks to mobilize the public through the School Works program to make sure that for every student in Pittsburgh, “school works.”

Q: How long does A+ Schools plan to continue the School Works program?

A: A+ Schools will continue the School Works program as long as it is able to produce reliable data about our schools that can be used to focus attention on specific issues and inform and mobilize the community to take action to remove barriers to student success. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure our schools are places where teachers can teach and all students can learn at high levels.





Last Updated on March, 2014