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Pittsburgh Public Schools to hold 10 town halls on building utilization proposal this summer

The main door of Colfax Elementary and Middle School in Squirrel Hill.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Consultants with Pittsburgh Public Schools updated school board members on Tuesday on the district’s facilities utilization study to guide upcoming changes to the district’s footprint.

The study builds on a series of recommendations district administrators proposed earlier this spring. Strategies on the table include consolidating buildings, changing the district’s feeder patterns and returning some schools to a traditional middle school model.

In April, school board members voted to contract with the Boston-area consulting firm Education Resource Strategies, Inc. (ERS) to lead community engagement and feedback efforts throughout this process.

The organization will also conduct a “comprehensive analysis” of the district’s facilities and provide recommendations back to school leaders.

Joseph Trawick-Smith with ERS said consultants will help the district define the opportunities it wants to provide students and staff, as well as identify disparities and structural barriers to fulfilling those goals.

“For example, how well are schools able to fully staff their schools with teams of excellent educators?” Trawick-Smith said. “And by that I mean, do we actually have enough adult teachers in the schools, in the right roles to be able to serve kids in the way that we aspire to?”

Consultants will meet with board members monthly through the end of September. They will also meet regularly with several stakeholder groups, including students, parents and district staff.

In addition, ERS will host 10 town hall meetings alongside school board members across the city over the next two months. The first will be held at Pittsburgh Minadeo PreK-5 in Squirrel Hill on Thursday, June 20.

Other town halls will be held on the following dates:

  • June 22 at Pittsburgh Sunnyside
  • June 25 at Jerusalem Baptist Church
  • June 27 at Pittsburgh Colfax (Gym)
  • June 28 at Pittsburgh King (Library)
  • July 9 at Pittsburgh Concord (Gym)
  • July 10 at Pittsburgh West Liberty
  • July 11 at Pittsburgh Obama
  • July 16 at TBD
  • July 23 at Morrow Intermediate (Library)

“The goal for these community meetings is conversation,” said Angela King Smith, another partner at ERS. “Conversation to be able to engage in productive dialogue with the community and parents, and others who will be attending, around key questions that we really need to answer.”

District administrators are expected to present school board members with recommendations for consolidations or closures in August. Board members are scheduled to vote at that time on whether to open the three-month public hearing process Pennsylvania requires before any closures are put to a final vote.

Consultants with ERS, however, asked Tuesday that the board consider pushing that deadline back to September so that they could gather more feedback from community members about possible closure scenarios.

“I'm asking for 3 to 4 weeks to be able to have authentic community engagement sessions before going into a very structured public hearing process,” King Smith said.

Consultants also stressed low enrollment numbers and outdated facilities at many Pittsburgh schools. But board member Sylvia Wilson said any community engagement efforts must take a more sensitive approach.

“We may have all the data in the world to show this, that or the other, but we can't disregard the emotions that we're going to have to face,” Wilson said.

Board member Sala Udin also stressed that while facility data are important, “They're not as important as how well the students are learning.”

Updated: June 13, 2024 at 12:45 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include a link to PPS town hall meetings.
Updated: June 12, 2024 at 9:46 AM EDT
This story has been updated with new information about the June 25 town hall.
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.