Friday, November 30, 2007

Bad Media! Bad Media!

This is the Schenley post.

MacYapper - That's the point of life young Sophie. Things change. They won't always be the same. You don't necessarily get to go to the same high school all four years. [Redacted] happens. Life is complicated. You're going to go through a helluva lot more changes in your life, so you may as well get used to it now.

The entire progress of the school district is being held up by a bunch of sentimental saps who can't deal with change or reality.



John McIntire is a humble blogger once again, but this is quite representative of the assumptions underlying mainstream media reporting -- and certainly all of the respectable commentary.

It is patent sophistry.

McIntire (and you all) talk about the "progress of the school district" getting held up. It is true the motion of the school district is being held up, but to call it progress is just plain lazy.

A) The Comet has been conducting research on the popularity of merging junior high schools and high schools into grade 6 - 12 schools. Nobody thinks this is a good idea -- we have met zero individuals who are not horrified. The most common single-word response is "retarded."

B) Turning the District into a series of "theme schools" makes the Comet nervous. We can understand how that is supposed to make Pittsburgh Public Schools more marketable -- remember this is the school district that tried to drop the word "Public" from its name -- but in general we don't like the idea of asking nine year-olds to choose a major. We certainly see the potential for soft but efficient segregation by class.

C) Hello. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Schenley is one of the best performing high schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools right now. That might seem like being the fastest running catcher in baseball -- but generally you don't close what's actually working best.

D) If we must have "theme schools" of some kind, Schenley represents the best of everything that should counterbalance them. The students know it and feel it and appreciate it. Work around Schenley.

E, F, G) In a previous edition of MacYapper:



First of all, that building has excellent feng-shui. You got Oakland, you got the Hill, you got Shadyside -- beat that.

Secondly, "asbestos ridden rat trap?" We hope you have some first-hand experience. A lot of people are leaping to the conclusion that Schenley is:

1) Deadly dangerous right now
2) Would be way too expensive to fix, and
3) There would be significant savings after shuffling three or four schools worth of students and making material adjustments on those facilities.

In a previous Comet post, Jennifer commented:

Bram, you need to write a post on Tuesday's rally and hearing since NONE of the media seemed to actually listen to the speakers. No One is questioning the threat of asbestos or the cost. They just keep repeating the administrations talking points.

Well, we guess we just did, but you're right about the speakers -- they were defending their school as awesome and the best thing about Pittsburgh Public Schools. What we agree on is, you'd think if we've learned anything at all over the last four years, it is to not just uncritically disseminate Administration Talking Points.


The suspicion is that Schenley is being opportunistically railroaded in order to expedite a city-wide reform agenda -- one that does not face the elected School Board until February -- one that was crafted exclusively by bureaucratic bean-counters, paranoid semi-suburbanites, and ACCD-type business theorists -- to the exclusion of educators, parents, the local community, and anybody with a lick of common sense.

That is the suspicion. That is the story.


  1. I only have a minute, but want to make two points. When the 6-12 configuration was announced as a plan for Pittsburgh, I looked at my own sixth grader. I immediately knew it was a bad idea. If that was the only reasonable option for us, he would not be in PPS. I would need an unbreakable agreement with any superintendent saying that for electives and classes like art, music, phys ed etc that grade levels would never be mixed. Oh wait, they'd agree and a year later say there is no money to support the number of teachers needed to keep the zones separate. By going to a 6-12 model is the administration admitting some level of failure for the k-8 model? I say five years sounds about what it will take for the data to come back to support the middle school model again. Yeah, that's right the model we seem to be running from now. Watch out for the theme schools. Is it a way for the parents of the gifted students to get a top notch education for those students while the mainstream kids languish in unthemed schools? Is all this creation of "new" schools some masterplan to outsmart NCLB? Does anyone know the rule on when PSSA results start to count for NEW schools? Is it three years? How many points did I say I wanted to make? Have a nice weekend.

  2. Schenley is a disgrace and should be closed! My son went to Schenley for 2 years before I bit the bullet and moved out of the city. It is a disgusting, filthy, dirty hellhole. I can't believe the difference in the school that he is in now.
    The elementary schools in the city are o.k., if you get into a magnet school. God forbid your child has to go to Fort Pitt! The middle schools are horrible - most concerned parents who send their kids to Pgh Public Elementary Schools transfer at this point. Do you want your child at Arsenal Middle - I think not!
    Schenley, while it has some invested students in the IB program, ignores the rest. My son spoke of kids doing drugs in the rest rooms, answering cell phones during class and telling teachers to F@#@ off if they were reprimanded. Homeroom is in the middle of the day, they don't know at any given time if a Child is actually present at school.
    I LOVED living in the city, but I am so glad for my kids that I was able to move away. There are a lot of families that don't have the same option.

  3. Please don't judge all middle schools by what you mention. The two in the south end are examples of what is possible in a comprehensive middle school. Both have strong leadership and dedicated staff. For the record, I do not work at either. In the city, excluding the magnet programs, it is all in the zip code and feeder pattern. In many urban school districts the performance of the students is all about the financial health of the area in which they live. I blame a lot on Disney, too. If it were not for those shows that show a middle and high school experience close to nirvana, our kids might have more hope and enthusiasm when they go to school. Share a locker? They never had to do that on Disney. How many kids got suspended today for 11 days or more? Never heard of such a thing on Disney. I'll write again later. It is the weekend---have a sense of humor.

  4. When I was a reporter covering the school district, from 1999 to 2002, middle schools where were the district lost a lot of students. Many students did return for high school; I expect that was due to Allderdice, CAPA and Schenley.

    Back in 1999, the city had 14 relatively large middle schools, some with magnet programs, some without. The middle schools were one of the prime engines in the city's desegregation plan, from back in the early 1980s. Parents in Arlington, for example, hated having their kids bused over to Hazelwood to attend Gladstone.

    During that time, and specifically after, several schools have closed and been reconfigured. During the 1990s, the debate over middle schools was over whether there was value in a middle-school education, or whether a K-8 model was best. There were, of course, racial overtones to the debate, since many of those who advocated for the K-8 schools simply did not want their children to have to leave (white) neighborhood elementary schools.

  5. JP, Do you remember where the "lost" middle grade students went? One trend I see is kids going to our middle school and then ending up in a charter or catholic school for high school. Some do well in these settings, some end up back in a public school. It is often not a matter of being unable to do the work in the new school. It is an issue of not being accepted socailly. Kids are snobs and just sometimes not nice people. I wonder where they might learn these behaviors?

  6. Small time bloggers who don't have comments (MacYapper) -- who listens to that? And it means I have to come back here to spout off!

    First off, it's not $64M to "get rid of the asbestos." That's to "refurbish" the school. The district has reported another number of $37M to fix it without AC or $42M with AC. Do you see the range of numbers there? How we can lop off $27M in one fell swoop? If we can do that once, can we do it twice?! The asbestos parts of the plans? As far as I can tell, those come in under $10 million.

    So, you can see why we'd like to at least sit down with the administration, some engineers, architects, and contractors and talk about what's absolutely necessary, what's nice and should be done at some point, and what's over the top and should only be done if someone comes along and begs to pay for it.

    Part of what we're asking is for them to break down the safety part from the oops, we forgot to maintain the building for a couple of decades and gosh, we poured money (tens of millions) into, say, additions for other buildings in district in the last year or two. You know , the district with so much overcapacity. Oh, and those additions? Guess what kinds of neighborhoods they were in?

    We're not saying it's the teachers at the school, either. We're saying it's the MIX OF KIDS. There are ESL kids, neighborhood kids, kids whose parents didn't get them into magnets earlier who go into the robotics magnet, and IB/IS kids. That means there are a huge range of classes too. Even if you aren't good at (math) you could take a higher level (English) class, because there are a lot of options. And all those different kinds of kids seem to form some sort of extremely loyal core -- honestly, I don't get it, but I never went there.

    Dividing these kids into three different schools? It changes everything good about it.

    Besides which, they're not saying if we don't spend a kabillion dollars on Schenley, it'll all go to the kids, oh nooooo, they're planning on spending 50 MILLION for Reizenstein, Milliones, new CAPA middle school, redoing Frick (to put in labs like Westinghouse has sitting there waiting for students) and putting the robotics program into Peabody.

    Okay, well, CAPA is sort of separate from all this. But all those other expenses? Those are all things they're doing instead of fixing Schenley -- moves they "have to" make because they aren't fixing Schenley. Again, do you see why we're saying hold up, talk to us, see if we can find some alternatives that don't break the bank and see if we can keep something good and not create more problems (such as three HSs within 1.5 miles).

    Okay, maybe I see why he doesn't risk the comments. ;-p

  7. Bram has explained to me that most of government suffers from institutional ADD, but ppsparent brings more evidence to light. Fix three locations to accomodate the closing of Schenley? Thank heavens the super said he would concede and send the kids to Reizenstein intact. But wait, I have been inside Reizenstein since it last saw students several times. I have to reiterate my impression. We should go back to the architects and ask for a refund. Five years from now when we are looking for the cause of the decline in test scores we can say it is due to lack of natural light. Give me a window or give me medication.

  8. Sauce for your goose, deegazette: I heard a rumor that Target had intended at one point to open a location at Reizenstein, but changed their mind -- due to asbestos concerns. Who knows.

    PPSParent, thank you for putting the needle on some of the other expenses the School District will incur by moving Schenley's students around. If the total starts looking like $45 M, it starts to look awful equidistant to just keeping Schenley.

  9. Deegazette,

    Keep in mind that a lot of things have changed, as I'm sure you know, since I was reporting on these things. But at the time most of those kids were going to private school. A lot were probably from white East End neighborhoods, and probably southern neighborhoods like Arlington. Of course, I'm forgetting that Arlington got a new middle school in the mid-90s, which I think may not be closed.