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Pittsburgh School Board to Vote on Selling Buildings, Hiring 'Teach for America' Teachers

Four members of the Pittsburgh Board of Education are nearing the end of their terms, but they have some big votes scheduled Tuesday evening before they end they leave their seats on the board.

However, Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, a coalition of several organizations including the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and Action United, don’t want those outgoing board members to cast votes on the sale of school buildings and a contract with Teach for America. 

Theresa Colaizzi, Jean Fink, Floyd McCrea and Sharene Shealey opted not to run for re-election this year.  Great Public Schools Pittsburgh circulated a petition asking the board to delay the votes.

“The bottom line is we have these four new people elected to the board, and it just doesn’t seem right that people who don’t have a stake are going to have a vote on something this important,” said recently retired teacher and coalition member Ellen Smith.

The four outgoing members have served a combined 62 years on the school board.

The four new members elected this month will take office December 2: Cynthia Falls, Terry Kennedy, Carolyn Klug and Sylvia Wilson.

At its legislative meeting Tuesday evening the board is scheduled to vote on selling the former Columbus School building to Propel Charter Schools for $915,000. Propel currently rents the building for $120,000 a year. The board will also vote on selling the closed Morningside School building to the Urban Redevelopment Authority for $275,000 and start the process to close Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5 at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Michelle Boyle of Highland Park is the mother of two daughters — a second grader and a fifth grader at Pittsburgh Fulton. She opposes the closing of any additional schools and the selling of closed school buildings.

“Instead of having this one solution that this board came up with, that the next board can look at the multiple of solutions that will be assisted from the mayor’s office that can include community groups and how the neighbors in that community want to see that school best used,” Boyle said.

But possibly the most controversial proposal involves the hiring of teachers. The school district has a tentative agreement with Teach for America to provide 15 to 30 for what PPS superintendent Linda Lane calls “hard to fill positions.” Teach for America recruits recent college graduates and professionals, who don’t have certificates, to teach in low-income communities. But retired Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher Ellen Smith says the five weeks of training the Teach for America participants receive is not enough.

“They have to be highly qualified in terms of background in the subject matter. They need to be highly qualified in terms of the skill set you need to develop to become a teacher,” Smith said. “The teacher training piece is very important because you’re walking into classrooms with children who have high needs, and I think that experience needs to be honored.”

Smith said she has a “huge concern” that the Teach for America teachers only have a two-year commitment “because that’s how teachers hone their skill set, and in two years, you’re just getting your feet on the ground and at that point, so many of them are gone. There just needs to be consistency and sticking to the idea of a highly qualified teacher for every student.”