The forces arrayed to save Schenley High School will be in Squirrel Hill today at 3:00 PM on the corner of Forbes and Murray, distributing literature and rousing rabble.
If the Shire seems like an odd place to agitate for Schenley, that's because the movement is not about saving Schenley, they say, but about high school reform.
One theme of the movement is, "High School Reform: Coming Soon to a School Near You," and the object is to raise awareness amongst the Allderdice community, for example, that it may be next to suffer at the tender mercies of Mark Roosevelt for the Greater Good.
On the other hand, as much as they want to avoid the Save Schenley label, they also do not want to be known as the Down With Roosevelt organization, or the Obstruct High School Reform lobby. The need for reform and improved results is acknowledged, but they want it done differently and more methodically, with greater public involvement. So it's a bit of a balancing act.
Hence the working title, Informed Reform (under construction).
What's not to like about the intended regime of high school reform?
To hear the movementarians tell it, the decisions are driven exclusively by economics and excess capacity issues, not by any real attempts to improve student performance; the decisions are made by politicians and attorneys (like Superintendent Roosevelt himself), not by actual teachers and educators (of which even A+ Schools has a dearth these days); and the decisions are made too swiftly and too often in executive session or on retreat.
Instead of outsourcing the business of designing syllabi and importing pre-fab coursework for district-wide standardization, many in the new movement would rather concentrate on home-grown, more ambitious reforms that they say have been proven to increase student performance -- starting the school day later, for example, and providing a fresh breakfast provided by the USDA.
Finally, and we think most importantly, there is deep uneasiness about the direction of the proposed reforms. They see a future in which the career-track high schools like those for the Performing Arts, Science and Technology, and Computer Science pluck all the high-achieving students starting in 6th grade, in turn gobbling all the resources and attention of the district -- leaving the other students to muddle through basically for themselves.
It is this regressive vision of "gymnasiums and lyceums" that has many up in arms.
There is a Special Hearing of the School Board on Schenley tomorrow evening; there is a rally planned beforehand and maybe a hundred speakers scheduled to speak.
We anticipate that first there will be some debate about how this hearing is about the Schenley situation -- and there is another time and a place to talk about High School Reform. This is going to be a sticky wicket, since the closure of Schenley is intertwined with moving the reform agenda.
There will certainly be debate of how high school reform has been in motion for three years already; how all the information has been available to anyone who cares to find it, and how resources have already been allocated and the work of the school district must Move Forward.
(A source even insisted to the Comet that the reforms have been "telegraphed" for some time; this obviously begs the question of who is equipped to receive such signals and how.)
This will usher in the debate about how information is shared or not shared amongst the general public. There is certainly a lot of data on the Pittsburgh Public Schools website tracking the School Board's instruction to Roosevelt, and Roosevelt's proposals to the Board -- but it seems to be done in year-by-year snapshots. The suspicion of the new movement is that there is clearly a broad, five-or-ten year plan at work, and vision that has never been adequately spelled out to the constituents.
After much careful study, the Comet continues to have No Idea who is in the right on that score. The Board et all will reply that the info has been available forever; people just don't pay attention until their own school is affected. By then it is honestly too late to go back and unearth three or more years of work and research.
By this measure, although the plaster and asbestos situation at Schenley was seized upon as an opportunity by Roosevelt et all to hasten certain changes, the move may actually have worked against them -- it was dramatic enough to engage and enrage a community that was supposed to awaken to reform more slowly.
This brings us to yet another debate: the degree of danger and immediacy the Schenley situation poses -- both to student's health and welfare, and to the financial well-being of the district. The School Board et all will be stressing their proposals as outright necessities, and the movementarians will have their hands full trying to dampen the mood of emergency.
Finally, a debate will ensue as to whether or not Roosevelt is part of the problem or part of the solution, and whether or not Board Members that are perceived as "rubber stamps for the superintendent" are acting in the best interests of the children.
As the Comet's stated position outlines, there is still an opportunity for compromise -- saving Schenley as part of high school reform, and as a counterweight to some of its less savory overtones, and as a way to purchase some sorely-needed community buy-in to the larger plan already.
However, both sides would need to be willing to compromise. As it stands, the Informed Reform movement has received the message loud and clear that love him or hate him, Roosevelt takes direction from the School Board -- and the School Board is where to apply pressure. As instructed, they are looking to the School Board elections of 2009 in a very deliberate manner.