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Pittsburgh Public Schools to consider adding student representatives to school board

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools is considering adding students to its board of directors. The board is expected to vote next Wednesday on a resolution to add two high school representatives to the body.

The resolution, introduced by former board president Sala Udin, would establish board seats for two students — one 11th grader and one 12th grader — selected by a committee of high school principals.

The two would serve as a link between the board and PPS’s student body, though neither position would have any voting power. Nor would they be included in executive session meetings, where board members discuss school personnel and other confidential matters.

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Board member Devon Taliaferro said Wednesday that she would like to see more student involvement in district matters, but questioned whether a board that often sees itself as ineffective is ready to support student voices.

WESA reported last month that board members gave themselves failing grades on a March 2023 self-evaluation survey.

“I think that there's some work that we have to do to be able to set ourselves up for success,” Taliaferro said. “To then also welcome in the voices of students, and for them to be able to be successful on this board.” 

She also urged the board to look at other ways to incorporate student voices into its processes, potentially through a means similar to the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council.

The body is composed of students from each of the district’s 6-12 and 9-12 schools, and meets monthly with administrators to discuss issues under the board’s consideration and new initiatives.

Pavel Marin, a senior at Allderdice High School and a member of the council, said that while the committee made room for student input, more should be done to encourage student involvement.

“Lots of school districts across the country have already instituted [positions] like this,” Marin said. “This is kind of an old measure that the district is considering.”

He added that student seats on the board will be especially necessary as district leaders negotiate a new five-year strategic plan, potential school closures and ways to reduce its widening budget deficit.

“The times that are most difficult for schools are the times that that student voice really needs to be in place,” Marin said.

Board president Gene Walker commended the idea, yet was hesitant to sign on.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea, I’m just not quite sure we’re ready to bring on student leaders in that way,” Walker said. “But I’m looking forward to the discussion that we have going forward on that one.”

Walker said the board will continue to consider the idea even if it doesn’t get a majority vote at next week’s legislative session.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.