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Survey: Pittsburgh Public School Principals Have Good Staff

Eric E Castro

Public school watchdog group A+ Schools wanted to know what principals in the Pittsburgh Public Schools were doing to help support students, so they asked them.

Carey Harris, A+ Schools Executive Director, said they found that many of the schools – even those with a large number of low-income students – are getting “great results.”

“They have great school practices related to how they’re recruiting, training and supporting teachers, how they’re managing and supporting student behavior, how they’re teaching study skills, how they’re preparing kids for college and career – those sorts of things,” Harris said.

But a few other schools that didn’t have strong practices in place created potentially negative impacts on the students, according to Harris.

A+ Schools recruited volunteers to interview all 50 principals in the district using a survey to gage the trends they saw throughout the system.

Harris said many schools have begun implementing restorative practices instead of zero tolerance methods of punishment and suspensions.

“These are practices that emphasize positive relationships, building community among students and staff and providing opportunities to restore relationships when harm has occurred or students have committed infractions,” Harris said.

She said these methods aim to confront and disapprove of misbehavior while also affirming the “intrinsic value” of the offender.  Through the survey, 46 principals reported wanting to learn more about restorative practices while 33 reported already using them.

Harris believes suspensions don’t work because they push kids out of the classroom and create other negative issues for the students but don’t deter them from misbehaving in the future.

Many principals reported needing more people to support the students such as mental health providers and classroom volunteers.

“They’re asking for more support with students’ behavioral and emotional challenges and more sort of hands, professional support in place to help them support students,” Harris said.

Staffing and hiring practices were probed by the study.

More than 60 percent of principals said they could adequately staff highly effective teachers for core academic classes, and 24 percent said they could staff highly effective substitute teachers as well.

Many principals believe current staffing policies present barriers to hiring effective teachers and 30 percent of them believe employing a better recruitment and candidate pool could help.  Twenty-three percent of them said not having seniority affect the hiring process would also be helpful.

According to the survey, vulnerable schools have a higher teacher turnover from year to year than other schools in the district, resulting in an inconsistent environment in which students are exposed to changing teaching methods. 

“We hope that our school staff – you know, principals – find this helpful ,” Harris said. “And they begin to look at practices happening in other schools and work with their teams about how they’re going to adopt those practices here, in their schools.”