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Tag Archive: Pittsburgh Public Schools

  1. Lessons from High Performing PPS Principals

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    As we get ready for “Our Schools Can Succeed” on October 3 with Karin Chenoweth and Dr. Valerie Kinloch (tickets here), I thought I’d share a few lessons about what high performing schools are doing to ensure all kids are learning well. Most of the observations below come from two principals in Pittsburgh who are getting way better results with all students. We don’t have to look far for examples of equitable and excellent schools. We have a few in our own District, and the lessons they have for us, can spread if we have the will to make it happen.

    Schools that Succeed:

    • Believe fiercely that all students can achieve: From Schools that Succeed: Great schools reject the faulty reasoning that intelligence is fixed and that kids can be grouped according to it. Instead all members of the school community believe (a belief backed by research) that “effective effort drives development.” The grouping of children into tracks by intelligence is made worse by implicit/structural/unintentional biases that are built into American culture. Overcoming those biases is part and parcel of the work of great schools.
    • Make the habits of learning explicit: One PPS principal talks about how they make explicit to all children the skills and habits that lead to learning. It’s a way to reinforce high expectations while giving children concrete guidance on how they can be successful.
    • Teachers know the data and know where their kids are: Another PPS principal talked about how she’s worked closely with teachers to understand from quizzes, tests, student work, and behavior in class, where each child is. In her words “It might be 8 different things that are impacting why the student is having trouble learning skills or concepts. Our job is to help untangle those issues and get the student the support she needs to be successful.”
    • Students are taught how to advocate for themselves: Just as parents teach children to use their words to talk about their feelings, educators in high performing PPS schools are teaching children to speak up for what they need. Empowering students to be partners in learning and teaching them how to be independent create way better outcomes for kids.
    • A strong leader is key: From Schools that Succeed: A University of Washington study concluded in a 2010 study of school leadership: To date, we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership
    • Schools are organized to make sure every child has a relationship with a caring adult: Every school employee from the bus driver to the secretary to teachers and administrators has a role to play in knowing children, making sure they know they’re cared for, and providing them positive encouragement. The power of positive relationships unleash learning at high rates for all children.

    These are just some of the key lessons we’ve learned about how high quality schools are getting results with ALL students. What are some aspects of high performing schools that you have visited? Haven’t visited a school lately? You should! Contact your neighborhood or local magnet school for a visit today.

  2. 2017 PPS Budget

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    The 2017 PPS Budget is a statement of the school board and administration’s priorities for the coming year. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, budgets are moral documents. They embody the values of a community and those represented to serve the community.

    I urge you to take a few moments to read it (here’s a link to a short overview prepared by PPS) and then come testify at the Board on Monday, December 19 with your questions and concerns. You can register for the public hearing before 9 am on Monday morning by calling 412.529.3868

    While the budget document is full of information, it does not provide a school by school breakdown of spending. Please see the testimony I gave at the special budget hearing below for why we think it’s so important to account for all of what’s being spent at schools.

    Pittsburgh Public Schools 2017 Budget

    James Fogarty, Executive Director
    Testimony December 5, 2016

    Good afternoon.   I am pleased to provide testimony today on behalf of A+ Schools: Pittsburgh’s Community Alliance for public education.

    We’re here today because the budget is perhaps the largest and most impactful policy document that you will vote on this year. It provides a roadmap of your priorities, and of all the policy tools you have at your disposal, the budget can have the greatest impact on addressing inequities and closing opportunity gaps within our schools.

    First off, we would like to commend the board and administration for continuing to improve the financial outlook of Pittsburgh Public Schools even in the face of financial uncertainty.  The 2017 budget does not call for a tax increase, nor would we recommend one at this point with a solid fund balance in hand and growing tax receipts.

    Last year, my predecessor, Carey Harris, laid out an analysis of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ budget that remains mostly unchanged.

    We still see some of the greatest disparities in spending between rich and poor districts of any state in the nation. Local property taxpayers bear a majority of the costs of education, which exacerbates interdistrict inequities.   While we were proud to see the state legislature pass a Basic Education Funding Formula this past year due to efforts of our organization and others working with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, we know that getting to more equitable funding will require further investments by the state in other districts. We also know that we will need to continue to protect Pittsburgh’s funding even with the good financial outlook we currently have.

    Here’s why: compared to the seven largest districts in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Public Schools (in 2014-2015):

    • Was the highest spending, spending more in almost every budget category, but especially instruction, support services, and debt and financing uses.
    • Benefitted (and still does) from the highest per pupil basic education fund (BEF) subsidy
    • Had the 2nd most generous local tax support
    • Had the 2nd lowest teacher to student ratio

    A+ Schools has sought for the past several years to understand how PPS is investing its generous state and local support to students.  We will be updating our analysis of the PPS budget soon, but what remains a sticking point for us is the fact that nearly half of the money invested in schools, is driven out centrally and not tracked at the school building level.

    For sake of transparency, and for you as directors to make good decisions about where to invest money, we call on you to make it the policy of this board that with each year’s budget presentation, starting this year, you and the public should be provided a building by building accounting of what resources are going to each school.

    What the public currently is able to know is what is being spent via Title I and site-based budgets at each school.  Those site-based budgets include average teacher salaries, principal salaries, supplies, and small amounts of discretionary dollars for paraprofessionals or other uses.  However, this is only about half of what is spent at each school, as far as we can tell.

    The remaining half of funds spent from central office include transportation, facilities and maintenance, school security staff, nurses, and other costs. Not knowing how much it costs to transport a student to one building versus another, or what the costs of security or custodial staff in a building are, means that you cannot know if the ways you are currently spending money are addressing inequities or exacerbating them.

    Based on our analysis of site-based budgets last year, our investment in kids is really dependent on how big their school is, not what their needs are.  Further we have no evidence to suggest that the larger investments in kids in small schools is getting them what they need as they have some of the largest achievement gaps in the district.

    While we would hope that the board would move to funding schools based on a formula (similar to what is being done at the state level), before the District can do that, you must first know what is being spent as accurately as possible. Please, make it the policy of this board that all of the money that is spent at each school building is accounted for and made public as part of the discussions and debate about the budget. Until you know what is actually spent at each building, how can you get to equity?

    Thank you for your service to our children, and thank you for considering this recommendation to improve equity in funding of our schools.

  3. Hate has no place in our schools

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    Over the past couple weeks, disturbing incidents of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia have occurred in schools across our country and in our Commonwealth. At A+ Schools, we want our community to know, especially our children and families, that hate has no place in our schools.

    We hope this page can serve as an ongoing resource for principals, teachers, caregivers, mentors, and students to create a more restorative environment. If you have a suggestion for an article, organization, or resource to help our children feel safe in school, please leave a comment.

    We want to thank Superintendent Hamlet, Mayor Peduto, and Governor Wolf for speaking out against hate. We stand with them in saying hate has no place in our schools.


    Pittsburgh Public Schools – Parent hotline: 412-529-HELP (4357) or email

    Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission

    U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights

    Education Law Center

    Immigrant Legal Resource Center

    Southern Poverty Law Center  – #Reporthate webform

    Restorative Practices Resources (SFUSD)

    Please check back as we plan to keep adding to this list of resources in the coming days and weeks. Please leave suggestions for articles, advice, and other reading that can help ensure that hate has no place in our schools.


  4. Restoration over criminalization

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    Today we released a follow up to our community brief on school climate from last year about restorative practices in Pittsburgh Public Schools. In it, we discuss our findings from a survey and focus groups we conducted this past spring with parents and students in schools that are participating in a Department of Justice study into the impact restorative practices can have on improving school climates.

    Click here to download “Restoration over criminalization: An A+ Schools community brief.”

    While there is still much to learn about the efficacy of restorative practices in schools, it is a practice that is showing some promise locally and nationally. We would urge the school board to:

    1. Commit to implementing restorative practices in all schools by 2020, recognizing that students, staff, and parents will need to time to learn about and engage in using restorative practices within each school .

    2. Commit to provide ongoing support and training to all staff on restorative practices, and other social emotional behavioral supports .

    3. Stabilize principal leadership at schools by supporting building leaders to be effective and providing services and supports from central office that meet the unique demands of each school.

    We recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to building school cultures that work for children. Implementing restorative practices in a manner that meets the needs of students, parents, and educators will be important to building long-term cultural change at each school. We hope PPS will continue to build upon what it has learned in the study to create school climates that seek to repair  and avoid harm.

    You can learn more about restorative practices and pushout by signing up for our email newsletter and taking part in community trainings being conducted by Parent Nation and TeenBloc.

  5. School Board must start search process over

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    We have joined with the Black Political Empowerment Project, the Hill District Education Council, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly to call on the board to start a new search for superintendent (read our joint statement below).

    If you agree with us that School Board should take immediate action to restart the search process, using a reputable search firm with experience hiring an urban superintendent and a screening committee of community members, here are 3 things you can do to have your voice heard.

    1. Join us at 5:30 pm on Monday, June 20, 2016 at the Board Offices at 341 S. Bellefield Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213 for a public rally demanding a new search.

    2. Testify at the public hearing on Monday starting at 6 pm (must call 412 529-3868 to sign up before noon on Monday the 20th).

    3. Call/email your board member and express your concerns and urge them to re-open the search at 412-529-3770 or

    This is how democracy works. Our elected officials need to hear from us. Stand with us and let your voice be heard.

    Joint Statement: School Board must start search process over

    Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, Hill District Education Council,
    Black Political Empowerment Project, A+ Schools and Western PA Black Political Assembly call for a new search for Superintendent

    Today we are calling on the Pittsburgh Board of Education to start a new search for superintendent of our public schools. No additional amount of investigation will undo the damage already done. More time spent deliberating only further tarnishes the reputations of both Dr. Hamlet and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.  The School Board must act now.

    We need a superintendent with a clear and flawless background, with a huge commitment to kids, and a solid record of accomplishment.  Unfortunately, given the seriousness of the questions already raised, any initiative Dr. Hamlet would put forward or his evaluation of such initiatives, as superintendent would be met with suspicion and doubt from administrators, principals, teachers, students, parents, and community.

    We are demanding that the School Board restart the search immediately, under conditions recommended by various community stakeholders to the School Board in October 2015.

    We are calling on the Board to:

    1. Issue a request for proposals for executive search organizations with successful track records of placing urban superintendents (including supporting the board in vetting the final candidates);
    2. Upon selection of a reputable firm, use a community committee to screen applicants and build consensus for selecting the District’s next leader – a decision that ultimately rests with the elected school board.

    We are profoundly disappointed that the School Board has failed to take action to remedy this situation. We have waited more than 16 days since the initial discoveries of inconsistencies in Dr. Hamlet’s resume surfaced for the board to act. We can no longer wait. The hiring of the superintendent is the most important job that the School Board has. Our community needs a visionary leader whose credentials are unimpeachable. The School Board must restart the search to find such a candidate.


    Esther L.  Bush                                                                              Tim Stevens
    President & CEO                                                                           Chairman & CEO
    Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh                                        Black Political Empowerment Project


    Sala Udin                                                                                        Carey A. Harris
    Co-Chair                                                                                          Executive Director
    Hill District Education Council                                                   A+ Schools

    Rick Adams
    W. PA. Black Political Assembly
    Former, Pgh. School Bd. Member

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