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Community Leaders Try to 'Transform Learning' in Pittsburgh

“We should be outraged that not all of our young people are succeeding and learning to their potential,” says Olga Welch, dean of Duquesne University’s School of Education.

Welch and the university are leading a collaboration of community leaders to transform learning in the Pittsburgh region by pushing for public education as a social justice right “impacting all children, particularly those in under-represented populations.”

Representatives from school districts, service organizations and foundations along with parents, students and elected officials gathered Wednesday for a second forum to discuss plans to achieve equity and excellence for all children by exploring what is and is not working.

“It requires a lot of resources, resources that most school districts, most systems cannot afford,” said keynote speaker Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, professor emerita of urban and multicultural education at Emory University.

Those resources are funding and the involvement of educational stakeholders and government leaders.  “It’s top down and bottoms up,” said Irvine. “It goes from the right and comes from the left and in the center is the child, the student. It has to come from the very top, I mean from the state house to the schoolhouse. It can’t be stakeholders talking to parents, to teachers, they have to be sitting at the table as well.  Educators cannot do this alone.”

According to Irvine, state leaders place too much emphasis on testing and not enough on what and how students are being taught and their needs.

“I have a southern background and I think the metaphor might be appropriate.  It’s like weighing the cattle without feeding them; we’re just going to weigh them and weigh them and see if they’re getting fatter, but we’re not feeding them.  So what are we doing to make sure they’re [the students] are learning, and then let’s measure them.”

Irvine says leaders must determine how to involve everybody in children’s education.  “Start thinking of school like schools used to be—the hub of the community—whether you had a child in school or not.  That was a place where everybody came; everybody was welcome.  That was where the meetings were; people took a sense of ownership to schools.  That has changed dramatically.”

According to Welch, the partners will gather again in the fall to outline action plans for collaboration to help students become prepared for work and success.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
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