Archives for category: Pittsburgh

The elected School Board of Pittsburgh unanimously rejected a charter school called Catalyst Academy because of concern about its proposed disciplinary policy and its ability to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The School Board’s decision was overturned by the state’s Charter Appeals Board, which was appointed by the former Republican Governor. The members of the CAB have ties to the charter industry.

This is NOT how democracy should work.

Why should a highly conflicted board appointed by a former Governor have the authority to override the decision of a democratically elected community school board?

The Network for Public Education Action fund is happy to endorse Pam Harbin for Pittsburgh school board! She is running in District 4.

Pam has a long history of supporting public school students and public schools. She has been working on the ground for twelve years in the fight to improve and save public education in Pittsburgh as a parent, community organizer and a long-time disability rights advocate. She has served on numerous PPS district-wide advisory committees, and has been an unofficial school board watchdog, streaming and/or attending more than 2,000 hours of school board meetings.

Pam is the Co-Founder of the Education Rights Network (ERN), a parent-led organization working for fully resourced, inclusive and quality education for students in Pennsylvania. She is also the immediate past president and a board director for Evolve Coaching, an organization that supports individuals with disabilities and their communities through education, employment, and the arts.

Pam has a clear sense of what it takes to create a system that works for all kids. She told NPE Action that the district needs “smaller class sizes and a smaller ratio of kids to adults in each building with more teachers, counselors, social workers, paraprofessionals, nurses, librarians, and other staff that keeps the building functioning at its best.”

She is also keenly aware of the dangers posed by the privatization movement, and how it can grow in a city like Pittsburgh.

The primary election is on May 21, 2019. Please be sure to get out and vote for Pam Harbin, a powerhouse public education advocate.


Steven Singer reports that a Christian Academy in Pittsburgh has applied to become a charter school. That would permit the school to collect public money, which is not possible as a religious school.

Under Pennsylvania law, religious schools cannot be funded with public money.

What an idea to declare the school to be a charter school!

Singer writes:

It’s awfully convenient that a school whose mission statement currently includes “We share Christ with our children daily and seek to help them grow into mature Christians” would somehow magically become secular overnight.


If Imani’s charter is approved, it would be required to discontinue any religious component in its curriculum. The state school code requires even charter schools to be “nonsectarian in all operations.” The proposed academy would not be permitted to display any religious objects or symbols on the premises.


Yet one wonders who will check to make sure this actually happens.

Fred Rogers was the iconic television host of a program for children called “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He taught love and kindness.

Mr. Rogers grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Latrobe High School. He attended Dartmouth College, then Rollins College, where he earned a degree. He subsequently became a Presbyterial minister. In the 1960s, he lived in the Squirrel Hill and attended the Sixth Presbyterian Church.

This is the advice his mother gave him, when there was tragedy: “Look for the helpers.”

The community of Squirrel Hill mourned last night. Mourners met at the Sixth Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, around the corner from the Tree of Life Synagogue, where the massacre occurred.

That church was Fred Rogers’ church.

People said to one another, “Look for the helpers,” quoting Mr. Rogers.

PITTSBURGH — Under a persistent drizzle on Saturday, more than 500 people stood shoulder-to-shoulder during a vigil in front of Sixth Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh to express shock and anger over the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue around the corner.

The church has a storied history of fighting for social justice and was the home congregation of the late Fred Rogers, a humanitarian who starred in the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” television program.

The service was designed to show the unity in this city after 11 people were shot and killed at the synagogue during Saturday services. As they wept and sang religious hymns, the mourners who gathered said the shooting will spur them to greater action in tackling anti-Semitism, assault rifles and fighting poverty.

“You are seeing all of these people show up from this community, because we care about love,” said Jenna Cramer, 37, who lives in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood. “This is Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood and this is a neighborhood where we serve…”

Throughout the day, as the news sunk in here, Cramer said her friends began sharing one of Rogers’s best-known quotes. In times of trouble, Rogers, who died in 2003, used to tell children to “look for the helpers” so they know they are not alone.

“All of these people here are ‘looking for the helpers,” Cramer said, “because that is what this neighborhood is about…

“One of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the United States is here, and we value and love our neighbors, and we are not going to allow them to stand alone through this,” said the Rev. Vincent Kolb, the pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church…”

When it concluded, hundreds broke into a spontaneous chant of “vote, vote, vote …”

“We have a president that doesn’t understand the dark forces that he has unleashed,” said Ed Wolf, 62, who is Jewish and has attended services at Tree of Life synagogue.

Wolf noted that he’s worshiped at numerous synagogues in Europe.

“I used to marvel at the level of security they have, and I would always leave those places thinking how lucky I am to live in a place where we don’t have to think about stuff like that,” said Wolf, as he began to cry.

Beth Venditti, Wolf’s wife, said anti-Semitic fliers and some graffiti occasionally appears in the community. But Venditti said Jews “always felt safe here.”

“There has been precious little hate until today,” said Venditti, 62.

She also fears Trump will not be able to rise to the occasion to help stamp out violence and anti-Semitism.

“We had a president who stood up and sang ‘Amazing Grace’ after Charleston,” said Venditti, referring to President Obama’s response after Dylann Roof killed nine worshipers at a church with a predominantly African American congregation in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. “That ain’t going to happen now.”

In our modern media environment, major news disappears within a day or two.

Will that happen now?

Pittsburgh was once one of Bill Gates’ favorite cities. He showered it with millions to try out his ideas about how to improve teaching and test scores. But it didn’t work.

Now Superintendent Anthony Hamlet is scrapping the last vestiges of the Gates plan.

Pittsburgh Public Schools is scrapping a performance-based pay system, giving all its teachers at least a 2 percent raise and paying its least experienced teachers as much as 15 percent more per year.

The tentative changes are included in three-year contracts overwhelmingly approved Wednesday by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, the union’s president. The union represents about 3,000 teachers and support staff.

A little more than 2,000 members voted on the contracts, which were approved by 90 percent of teachers, 90 percent of paraprofessionals and 77 percent of technical and clerical employees.

“We really focused on the new teachers. We were falling behind other districts in terms of our starting salary,” Esposito-Visgitis said. “A lot of money was put at the bottom of the salary schedule because we want to attract the best and the brightest in Pittsburgh.”

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet issued a statement Wednesday night thanking “parents, stakeholders and the larger city for their patience” through stalled negotiations that nearly culminated in districtwide school closures.

Hamlet said he expects the new contracts to help reduce teacher turnover and improve school stability.

“It’s a testament to our members and to both negotiating teams that we were able to resolve things,” Esposito-Visgitis said. “We’re glad this chapter is over.”



Steven Singer reports here that big money failed to block the new pro-public school superintendent Anthony Hamlet.

Elite reformers tried to stop his appointment but they failed. Even the corporate media pitched in to criticize him. But the elected board prevailed (the same board that ousted TFA) and Hamlet won a five-year contract.

Jon Parker, a teacher in Pittsburgh, warns that the corporate reformers are trying to reverse the results of the school board election that they lost by attacking the board’s choice of a pro-public education superintendent. The reformers (Gates-funded and called “A+ Schools”) are abetted by the pro-privatization Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reformers don’t like democracy unless they can buy it. The pro-public education board ended the Gates’ experiment with test-based evaluation and canceled a contract with Teach for America. That sort of thing makes reformers really angry. How dare they assert a vision different from the great Bill Gates! How dare they end his experiment in evaluating teachers! How dare they say no to TFA!

Parker outlines the scenario:

Chapter 1: Pittsburgh has a democratically elected school board.

Chapter 2: Pittsburgh’s citizens vote for pro-public education candidates.

Chapter 3: A+ Schools’ (a.k.a. Bill Gates’ employee) candidates lose.

Chapter 4: A+ Schools doesn’t know what it feels like to lose and becomes upset.

Chapter 5: Pittsburgh’s democratically elected school board selects a pro-public schools superintendent without allowing A+ Schools to railroad the process.

Chapter 6: A+ Schools becomes more upset and elicits the support of local media in a witch hunt against the new superintendent.

Pittsburgh has been the site of a remarkable revolt against corporate reform. After years of pressure from the usual crowd of data-driven reformers, the school board majority was captured by grassroots activists–parents and educators–who wanted a different approach to education, one that was grounded in sensible principles, not a love for disruption. One of the first actions of the new board was to sever its contract with Teach for America and seek ways to collaborate with and support experienced career teachers. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh superintendent retired, and the board hired a new superintendent, Anthony Hamlet. The board was convinced that he was not a Broadie and would not seek to restore corporate reform strategies of measure-and-punish to the schools.

But now the Empire Strikes Back, as teacher Steven Singer tells the story. The ousted reformers are hoping for a comeback, and the last thing they want is a superintendent who brings stability to the public schools. So they have mounted a full-bore attack on Hamlet, because one sentence in his resume was almost identical to a sentence in a Washington Post editorial. One sentence! The critics are in full cry, screaming “Plagiarism!”

As an author and a historian, I know plagiarism when I see it. I have seen whole paragraphs and pages lifted and reprinted in books, resumes, and papers. But one sentence? I don’t think so.

Steven Singer writes about the new superintendent:

He is set to takeover the district on July 1, but a well financed public smear campaign is trying to stop him before he even begins.

Big money interests oppose him. The public supports him.

Meanwhile the media helps fuel corporate attacks on the 47-year-old African American because of criticisms leveled by a Political Action Committee (PAC) formed to disband the duly-elected school board.

It’s ironic.

Corporate school reformers criticize Hamlet for allegedly plagiarizing a single statement in his resume. Meanwhile they have plagiarized their entire educational platform!

Mayoral or state takeover of the district? Check!

Close struggling schools? Check!

Open new charter schools to gobble up public tax dollars as profit? Check!

Hamlet’s strong points are his belief in restorative justice programs for students and his commitment to community schools. Not a peep about charters.

Singer writes:

Despite community support, several well-financed organizations oppose Hamlet and the board’s authentic reforms.

Foremost among them is Campaign for Quality Schools Pittsburgh, a new PAC formed recently to make city schools great again – by doing the same failed crap that didn’t work before.

Also on the side of corporate education reform are the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. Representatives for both organizations have offered to pay for a new superintendent search if the district gives Hamlet his walking papers – a measure that probably would mean paying him at least a years salary without having him on the job.

This would also result in weakening the district’s ability to hire a new superintendent and increasing public mistrust of the electoral process. Such a move would pave the way for disbanding local control.

How generous of these philanthropies! I remember a time when giving meant providing the resources for organizations like public schools to fix themselves – not having the right to set public policy as a precondition for the donation. But in the age of Bill Gates and the philanthro-capitalists, this is what we’ve come to expect.

Even the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has drunk the Kool-aid. In a June 10 editorial, the paper published the following statement:

“The (school) board’s failure at this essential task calls its leadership into question, and will renew calls for legislation to dissolve the elected school board and move to an appointed system.”
Finally, we have A+ Schools – an advocacy organization that at one time championed the same kinds of reforms school directors are trying to enact. However, after a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation, the group has become a cheerleader for weakening teachers unions, privatization and standardized testing.

Against these special interests stands a public school board and a community at the crossroads. Will they give in to public pressure and big money? Or will they allow Hamlet to do the job he was hired for and attempt to improve an urban district suffering from crippling poverty and state disinvestment?

Steven Singer warns that the wealthy privatizers are gearing up to take back the public schools. At the last school board elections, parents, educators, and community leaders joined together to throw out the corporate reformers. The people who actually send their children to Pittsburgh public schools gained control of the board. One of the first decisions of the new board was to cancel a contract with Teach for America.


Corporate reformers can’t tolerate losing control of schools their own children don’t attend. Now they are coming back, with a PAC and lots of money, something that supporters of public schools are usually short of.

Pittsburgh is a textbook example of the importance of electing a school board that supports public schools, instead of one that is controlled by billionaires.

This is a story of how a community saved its school, which the old board had decided to close.

The new elected board listened to the community, which wanted to keep Woolsair Elementary open. The old one said enrollment was too low; with community activism, enrollment is up. The school adopted a STEAM focus (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The STEAM theme is given credit for renewed interest, but frankly, I think that is merely the cherry on top of the whipped cream. The real change agent here was the community activism.

Be it noted that the Pittsburgh school board severed ties with TFA.

This is a city energized to save and improve its public schools.