Early Literacy and Equity
We need to collaboratively engage with the reality that too many of our students cannot read on grade level by third grade. This is a leading indicator of students’ success later in school and in life, and we need the Pittsburgh community to come together to tackle this important equity issue – but constructively and without blame. In the district and across the wider Pittsburgh community, we adults need to work together to solve this. That means making public commitments and collaborating with other entities who care about our children’s education and futures, including public libraries, the City, and non profit organizations. Anna’s professional background creating collaborations across public institutions would be a great asset to the School Board when establishing these partnerships. The city’s new free book program, for example, is a natural partner in this work. Other groups that would be strong partners include the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh and community organizations that provide childcare and after-school care.
Universal pre-K has to be the next big investment we make in education. All of the research underscores the importance of early education and its impact on student outcomes, not to mention the immediate economic benefits for working parents and families. We must work with the Commonwealth and the City to expand on commitments to increased early education, and chart a realistic path to universal pre-K in Pittsburgh.
As a School Board member, Anna wants to work closely with the City of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development on their efforts to increase the quality of childcare and pre-K programs across the city. Leveraging Governor Wolf’s commitment to pre-K at the state level, we must work closely with our state legislators to secure statewide funding for pre-K, pushing to increase it until we reach universal pre-K opportunities. The strong public support in our district for “Our Kids, Our Commitment,” a recent countywide referendum that would have expanded early education and after school support, shows that many voters care about helping our youngest learners get more opportunities to thrive.
Make Sure Teachers Have the Support They Need
Teachers have difficult jobs that are made more challenging with new requests for different professional development, adoption of new curriculum and policies, and proliferating data they are expected to leverage – all of which too often in the context of shrinking public resources. Before implementing new policies, we need to check in with teachers about how the implementation of current policies are going on the ground and identify where they need support to make these policies and initiatives successful.
The PPS annual budget is approximately $650 million, more than that of the City of Pittsburgh. One of the most important obligations of a School Board member is to oversee this budget and make sure that money is being spent wisely and equitably. Our district spends more per student than most districts in Pennsylvania, and we should be proud as a city that we are willing to invest in our children’s education. However, PPS is currently $32 million over budget and we need to keep the district financially healthy for the benefit of future students. Anna has extensive professional experience analyzing multi-million dollar budgets and figuring out how to intelligently allocate funds. As a School Board member, she would undertake a detailed analysis of the current budget to find ways to provide an excellent education to all children with the resources we have.
Later Start Times for High School Students
All current research shows that later school start times benefit adolescents and their learning. They simply need to sleep later, sleep more, and start school at a time when their brains are functioning at full capacity. The logistics to make this possible are no doubt challenging, but can be overcome. Anna proposes a working group with leading experts, partners, students and families to make this policy a reality for Pittsburgh schools, starting with a look at nearby school districts that have piloted later start times. Specific challenges or questions could be investigated by partnering with the Heinz School of Public Policy at CMU or other universities to design student projects for finding a workable logistics and cost solution, as operations management is a key component of many of these academic programs. We have smart people eager to solve problems in our city, and PPS should leverage that as much as possible.
Students can’t focus on school if they are distracted by life’s other challenges, such as hunger, trauma, or needed medical care. The community schools model is a great approach to addressing the needs of students and families in a holistic way. Anna wants to see the community schools in Pittsburgh funded and supported for the long term, perhaps modeled on successful longer term initiatives like those in Cincinnati. To create effective community schools that meet the needs of each community, PPS must conduct needs assessments for each school – which includes gathering input from families and community members, creating formal collaborations among agencies, designing implementation plans for each school, and hiring coordinators at each school. Anna’s professional background in surveying family and community perspectives, creating collaborations across public and non-profit agencies, and implementing new policies for cities and states would make her an effective champion for strong community schools.
Pittsburgh does not need more charter schools. There are problems with the way charter schools are currently implemented in PA, which Anna wants to collaboratively address and solve. New charter schools divert resources from public schools, yet local decisions on taking on those costs are repeatedly overridden at the state level. There are concerns that the public system takes on the most costly students to educate, such as English language learners and students with disabilities – and the charter counterparts do not bear these costs. State laws hold charter schools to different levels of accountability and oversight. Charter schools should report the same data and information and be just as transparent to ensure that they are delivering the results they say they are. If public funds are being used, all taxpayers deserve to know how schools are spending those funds.
We are lucky in Pittsburgh that we have no for-profit charter schools, which have been shown to put profits over the education of our children, but underperforming charter schools should be monitored closely, such as cyber charter schools that consistently fall at the bottom of PA school rankings. Still, there are also charter schools performing well with high parent and community satisfaction. Anna intends to work constructively with these schools while holding them to high levels of accountability.
Many charter school issues need to be addressed at the state level, and Anna intends to work with our state legislators to push such necessary reforms forward in Harrisburg to ensure success in all our schools.
Teacher Outreach and Support
Schools thrive when teachers thrive. It is the responsibility of the district and school leaders to ensure that teachers have the tools and support to best help our students. They must be given policies and curricula that are up-to-date, culturally responsive, and proven to work.
When significant changes are implemented, teachers and staff must be coached and supported on new procedures, and the district needs to listen to teachers and staff to find out how new programs and policies are working on the ground and how they should be modified. The district’s new suspension ban, for example, is an excellent policy, but one that places new challenges on teachers as they deal with disruptive students. Anna wants to work with teachers to make sure this policy, and future policies, have resounding success in the classroom.
Students should also see their identities more reflected in their teachers. This could involve more recruiting in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as more attempts of finding teachers of immigrant, low-income, LGBTQIA+, and other underrepresented backgrounds. All teachers should undergo diversity, equity, and inclusiveness professional development so that they can be better aided in uplifting all their students and their families.
Anna looks forward to working with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, the union that protects some of the most valuable people in our society, on issues that matter most to our teachers.
Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Our public schools exist to educate all our children into kind, curious, and productive members of society. Every policy decision we make should keep this goal in mind. To this end, growth – not punishment – must be at the heart of how we approach student disruptions. We must strive to keep our students in classrooms, not courtrooms.
Anna fully supports the district’s embrace of restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions and support. When a student needs to be removed from a classroom for the sake of a safe and conducive learning environment for other students, effort should be made to understand the underlying reason for the disruption, help the student, and return the student to the classroom as soon as possible. The district should listen to and work with teachers and school leaders to understand the support needed to make this process successful. Furthermore, schools should work closely with families and view them as partners in solving these issues.
Our resource and security officers – many of whom already have positive relationships with our students – need comprehensive support in helping all students feel safe, secure, and cared for at school. When resource officers are present, their role should be one of student engagement, mentorship, and helping the school population build a positive culture. Part of this role can be a general sense of “keeping the peace”, but this should be achieved by integrating into the school community and being a resource students can come to with issues; NOT an enforcer to reel in “unruly” students.
Finally, given its proven positive effects, mindfulness should be taught to all children. We must reject knee-jerk reactions and listen to the data. When empathy and mindfulness are prioritized over shame and exclusion, our children are made stronger for it.
Anna applauds and fully supports the district’s transgender and gender-expansive policy. She wants to build on these great policies by ensuring strong implementation and follow-up. Discussions with gender nonconforming PPS students, for example, reveal that while progress is being made surrounding gender identity and they greatly appreciate the efforts made to date, the message about gender nonconformity still has not reached enough students and could benefit from more widespread implementation. LGBTQIA+ students report that they still face harassment, insensitive language, and sometimes bullying in school. To follow up on the district’s recent policies, we need to implement programs that teach students, staff, and teachers about how to work against this discrimination and make all our schools safe spaces for all students.
Student safety is essential for an effective learning environment, and for a wholesome environment in which to grow up. PPS’s existing anti-bullying policies should be fully enforced and strengthened where needed. Every adult in a school building should be fully trained, and the board should ensure that the anti-bullying training is implemented uniformly and thoroughly so that no student who is “different” feels threatened or unsafe.
Teachers should also receive ongoing training and support for culturally affirming teaching, trauma informed instruction, and positive behavioral interventions and support, which can all be helpful in supporting underrepresented groups and making them feel safe and welcome in a school setting.
Refugee, Immigrant, and English Learner Students
Refugee, immigrant, and English Learner (EL) students come to PPS with diverse experiences and language backgrounds. Some immigrant students have attended excellent schools in their home countries while others have lived in refugee camps for years with no formal schooling. Meeting the diverse needs of all refugee, immigrant, and English Learner students can be challenging. PPS must follow state and federal law as well as current research on best practices in academic and language programs and in communication with families. For families with limited English proficiency, this starts with appropriate translations services to effectively communicate both in writing and speech. Issues of culture and trust must also be addressed. When possible, the district must hire translators and aides from the community (such as from Nepalese and Central American communities in Pittsburgh) to engage students and families in a way that is culturally sensitive and builds trust. The district and schools must also honor and celebrate the cultural and linguistic diversity that refugee and immigrant students bring to our district.
Finally, now that that EL students are expected to exit EL or sheltered classes after two years, teachers who are not certified in EL need to be given adequate professional development to meet the academic and linguistic needs of these students. This is a basic issue of equity.
Class size varies across the district. In some schools, there are large classes that affect the quality of learning opportunities. Larger classes can affect a teacher’s ability to provide individualized instruction and can lead to teacher burnout.
Smaller class size at the lower grades (K-1) has been shown to be particularly important to student learning. Engaging in some essential learning activities, such as science labs, may also be more difficult with larger class sizes and we cannot deprive students of these important educational experiences. We should make sure that the allocation of teachers across the district is equitable so that there are not large disparities in class size.
This is an issue that the district needs to examine closely, particularly to determine if the allocation of teachers is equitable. The district should identify where class size reductions are most needed based on union requirements and requests, student population needs, and other classroom considerations, then make a plan for making logistics work in the current academic year. The plan should be revisited from year to year to make adjustments as necessary.
This is where asking detailed questions about the budget and our spending choices becomes important. If we want to prioritize our classroom resources, such as teachers and staff, we need to identify any spending that is not contributing to overall success and redirect it to where it will have the most impact: in the classroom.
This generation of students is special. They have proven themselves poised, intelligent, and strong in the face of gun violence, institutional racism, and climate change. Their nuanced, compassionate approach to gender and sexuality diversity should be adopted by everyone. Their social justice activism is an inspiration – and frankly an example – to adults everywhere.
There should be significant student input when it comes to the decisions made about them. It’s great that the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council and the City’s Youth Participatory Budget Council exist, and Anna will make sure there are more opportunities for students’ voices to be heard.
Hearing from the students themselves is the best way to eradicate bullying and make our public schools a safe space for all to thrive.
Gifted and Talented Education
As a parent, Anna has been impressed with the gifted program’s offerings for her fifth grader, Hazel. Hazel expresses that her time at the Gifted Center is one of the highlights of her week, and often comes back excited about the material being covered. However, Anna believes we can do better as a District in ensure that the gifted offerings are available to more low-income students and students of color. This begins with offering universal testing for the gifted program.
Since we know that not every PPS student will attend the Gifted Center, we should also be looking for ways to bring as many of the elements of the district’s gifted programming – such as project-based learning and more diversified course offerings – into all of our classrooms.