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Black Women Advocating For A Better City School District Plan To Run Slate Of Board Candidates

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA
Second graders Destiney Robinson and Isaiah Muhammad play a math game at Sunnyside PreK-8 in February 2016.

The group Black Women For A Better Education demand transformational change.

When Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet was hired in 2016 he called himself “a true transformational leader, not by words, but by actions and performance”. The women in the group say they haven’t seen that. In June, 55 women signed a letter asking the board to not renew Hamlet’s contract at the end of the school year. Now, they say they plan to run a slate of school board candidates in the 2021 election.

The group hosted a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday and heard from parents, School Board Directors Sala Udin and Kevin Carter and the Superintendent of the Woodland Hills School District James Harris.

Udin said there has not been transformational change in the academic outcomes for Black students. He said he is concerned that will worsen because the district does not yet have the technology it needs to teach students remotely this fall. 

“I’m afraid that the school district does not have a high enough priority in creating the equity that would bring Black children up from the low bar of when we began this pandemic,” Udin said.

The board unanimously agreed last week to teach students remotely for the first nine weeks of the year. The district says, though, that nearly three-fourths of the computers and iPads it has purchased for students since schools closed in March are backordered and might not arrive until October. 

Kathi Elliot, the executive director of the nonprofit Gwen’s Girls a service provider for at-risk girls, said she is a member of the group because there needs to be change. She said the district has to be better about partnering with outside groups that serve its students.

“It saddens me when girls come to my program that can’t read … It has to change. Out of school time providers can’t do it by ourselves,” she said.

Parent Amber Thompson said her daughter has an Individualized Education Plan which means she is entitled to special education services. She said her daughter received work packets in the spring, but did not receive instruction. Thompson said she had advocated in front of the school board before the pandemic without success.

“When I bring my concerns to the board, when I was at every school board hearing for her kindergarten and first grade years, nothing got done based on me being in front of that school board,” she said.

The group also shared 10 demands Wednesday night for a more equitable school district. These demands include a commitment to "educate and affirm the whole Black child," disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and increased autonomy for principals.

Group members said Wednesday that they plan to host work session to create deliverables around the demands.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She can be reached at sschneider@wesa.fm.
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