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Education

City Council Debates State Of Educational Emergency, Though Superintendent Absent

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A debate about Pittsburgh City Council’s declaration of a state of educational emergency was rather one-sided Wednesday, after the district’s superintendent and president of the school board dropped out of a scheduled discussion at the last minute.

Councilor Ricky Burgess said the administrators could not participate due “an unavoidable delay.” For the last three weeks, Council has heard from advocates, parents, and three school board candidates endorsed by Black Women For A Better Education.

Burgess and Councilor Danielle Lavelle introduced a bill declaring a state of educational emergency in the city in February, a few months after the state’s Human Relations Commission found that there has not been substantial progress to close the achievement gap between Black and white students in the last five years.

Burgess said the conversation with Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and board president Sylvia Wilson would be rescheduled. In the meantime, Council heard from Nina Esposito-Visgitis, the president of the teachers’ union. She highlighted what she called the “good things” happening in the district.

One example: the "community schools" model the district has piloted to bring social services into school buildings. It’s a model that requires significant funding to transform the buildings into community centers. Esposito-Visgitis asked the city to financially support the model.

“We want community schools to grow so that things are taken care of so teachers can teach,” she said.

Lavelle said before Council marshals resources to support the schools, “we first had to openly acknowledge that there’s a problem.”

Burgess said that while there are programs and educators doing “good things,” the goal is for every child to read and write proficiently at grade level. Now, only about half of students in the district are reading proficiently by third grade, the year readers move from learning to read to reading to learn.

“We have to celebrate the successes that some kids are having, but at the same time being honest that if we don’t do something transformational, we as a city are failing Black and brown kids,” Burgess said.

Council will next hear from city charter school leaders on July 27 at 1:30.