Local Groups Will Help Pittsburgh Public School District 'Re-Imagine' How It Teaches Students

Dec 4, 2019

Michelle Figlar with the Heinz Endowments says she wants schools to serve multiple purposes. She envisions them as community centers to help families before their kids even enter kindergarten.

“That’s not what school districts are responsible for. That’s not what we fund them to do. We fund other systems to do that. But PPS is saying ‘we want to work not just in alignment, but in true partnership and in commitment.’ Because they’re all our kids,” she said.         

The Heinz Endowments is one of 12 local organizations that have committed to help Pittsburgh Public Schools change its approach to education. The partners will lead teams focused on everything from graduation requirements, to mental health care, to athletics and the arts.

For now, the initiative is big picture and lacks detail. When the board approved three contracts with consultants in October to take on this work it was described as a way to “ensure all of our neighborhoods and communities have high-performing schools with clear pathways and no dead ends beginning with prekindergarten and ending at graduation.”

Officials say they won’t know what changes they will propose to the board until they hear from the community. There will be a dozen opportunities for that in January and April. The first input session is Jan. 2 at the Science and Technology Academy in Oakland.

There isn’t a budget for the initiative, called “Imagine PPS.” Chief of Staff Errika Jones says next year’s budgeting process will include a full change in how money is prioritized. Jones said the partners aren’t all financially supporting the initiative.

“Some of them will be able to give us great research to make sound decisions off of. Everyone has a role. We want to make sure we bring others along with us. This isn’t just about us. This has to be about the community and we’re serious about that,” she said.

At Tuesday’s presentation newly sworn-in board member Devon Taliaferro said she was glad the initiative will highlight three struggling schools she called “forgotten.”

Three organizations are dedicated to creating a strategy to turn around Milliones 6-12, Perry High School and Westinghouse 6-12. A majority of students at the three schools are black and all three historically underperform in terms of test scores and achievement.

After six months of research and community input the teams are expected to present a plan to the school board in June.