Friday, November 23, 2007

Schenley: It's Time to Renew It

They don't make them like they used to.

Ninety one years ago, the city made a huge, eye-popping investment in this school called Schenley. Schenley was to be a wonder of classical liberal education, broad in scope, ambitious in its public mission. It was to be a source of pride, glory, and strength for the City.

It has been, and continues to be, all those things.

Schenley continues to produce. Public schools are getting squeezed nationwide, yet in Pittsburgh, the Schenley students continue to perform near the top of the pack.

This is to say nothing of the regularity with which the school produces notable alumni, illustrious even. This is to say nothing of the so many somewhat-lesser success stories throughout the city -- in communities that need more success stories.

There are problems with Schenley and there are problems with all public schools, but Schenley was distinguishing itself.


Asbestos had been an on-and-off concern in recent years. New air-tight windows were installed in 2004. The summer of 2007 was particularly heated (blame global warming).

Under increased pressure and temperatures, the plaster started to burst, and the asbestos was exposed.


The School Board had directed Superintendent Roosevelt to close schools and to get our finances in order.

He had already begun a program closing hundreds of schools and eliminating a ton of excess capacity -- this was all the "low-hanging fruit." The truly tough decisions were yet to come.

A plan for further closures was fashioned and generally approved by the Board -- as was a plan to introduce more specialty, or "theme" schools, geared toward a certain occupation. These would be introduced slowly, since opening new schools is harder than closing them.


When Schenley started to peel apart, any reasonable outsider would see an opportunity not only to economize, but to free up some space and tackle some tough logistical issues. The plan was altered, and the plan continued to make sense...

... to anybody not from Pittsburgh.

The School Board is responsible for providing strategic direction to Roosevelt, and the School Board should continue to support him. The School Board should direct Roosevelt to continue with his plans as agreed upon previously -- and to save Schenley.


Part of the Roosevelt Plan is the introduction of these "theme" schools -- like the arts school, CAPA, or the anticipated Science and Technology school. More of these designer schools are rumored to be in the pipeline.

These schools are a good idea, but there is something to be said for classical education.

There is something to be said for the physicists hanging out with the poets. There is something to be said for having history students in science class. There is something to be said for all of them taking physical education together.

Even more striking, and the best part about Schenley: there is something to be said for the blacks going to school with the whites, for the poor going to school with the rich, and for those with strong families going to school with those that struggle at home.

This is the spirit that has kept Schenley strong for almost a century, and they know it. Thanks to their classical education, they can tell you all about it, too.

Schenley deserves reinvestment. Ninety one years is a long time. Schenley deserves a $100 million bond issue and a massive fix-up -- and its students deserve some improvements and innovations geared to increase performance.

Schenley deserves to be one of the brightest jewels in the Roosevelt Plan: the model school for Classical and Diverse Education.


There are some spill-over issues to this project.

Number one is where to put the Sci-Tech school. We understand this was one of the dominoes that was to fall into place in the amended, ad-hoc Close Schenley plan.

Might we suggest Westinghouse? We understand that it has fantastic laboratory facilities, and it's also ... well, are you familiar with George Westinghouse? How much more perfect can you get?

Number two is the whole grade range issue. Sixth through twelve? Not a popular idea, in this age of MTV and BET. But not wholly without merit.

We suggest possibly a combination until we gather more data. We would imagine, perhaps, that the Sci-Tech schools would have some advantages running as 6-12, where as the Classics & Diversity schools would thrive on children taking longer to explore their calling.

Number three is finances. Another priority the board properly mandated for Roosevelt was to get our finances in order. Taking out a $100 million bond would certainly seem to run counter to that plan -- to anybody but a Pittsburgher.

Schenley is just that big a deal. We have tightened up our game around the edges since Roosevelt came aboard, and we can continue to tighten up elsewhere. Instruct Roosevelt that this bond is a worthy exception.

When the new and improved Schenley School of classical education and diversity gets off the ground, it can even serve as a model for other schools in this tradition. As the specialty, career-track schools demanded by our economy flourish, so too should quality schools for all subjects, and all students, together. The renewed Schenley will again be an example and an inspiration.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Friday: All Mapped Out

Diversity review revs up (P-G, Rich Lord)

Barriers to women, a lack of outreach to minorities, and an internal culture perceived as hostile to outsiders have contributed to the development of a City of Pittsburgh work force that's three-quarters male and three-quarters white.

A tall order for Tamiko Stanley, the city's new Equal Employment Opportunities manager.

The Racial Equity Review Team, a group formed to hold the city's feet to the fire on diversity in contracting and hiring, has demanded data, promises, and action plans from the city and Allegheny County.

What an interesting idea!


Former schools administrator sues district (P-G, Team Effort)

Dr. Mosley, who was serving as the director of recruiting and staffing, was fired on Aug. 23. According to his lawsuit, he received a letter from Superintendent Mark Roosevelt on Aug. 21 informing him that the school's board of education would be voting the next day on his termination for unsatisfactory performance.

In his lawsuit, Dr. Mosley claims he was not afforded due process, in that he did not have adequate notice to defend himself or hire an attorney prior to the board's vote.

Is this a data point of any kind?


Students praise Schenley's efforts (Trib, Bill Zlatos)

Like children who don't see their mother's wrinkles, Schenley students focus on what their school has to offer -- diversity, strong athletics and a multitude of programs. Students may choose from international studies, international baccalaureate, technology, English as a Second Language and a partnership with the Pittsburgh Ballet.

This is article is must-read material from top to almost bottom.


From the Somebody Had To Say It file:

We absolutely, positively can not let the week go by without linking once again to this Bugs & Cranks article, commenting on Bill Peduto's web-based policy project, the Pokey Knows Pavement Management System. To learn more about Bugs & Cranks, click here.

Thursday: Appetizers

Panel advences bill to curb PHEAA spending (P-G, Tracie Mauriello)

The bill would prohibit the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency -- called PHEAA -- from using student aid funds for employee bonuses, promotional items and board retreats.

Um, good.


Don't panic over Steelers (P-G, Bob Smizik)

It's time to view the Steelers for what they are, a good team with flaws -- just like the majority of the NFL.

This is as close as Bob gets to a pep talk. Any sports columnist who uses the phrase "it's only a game" better be discussing either riots or salaries.


Roddey to run for top GOP job (Trib, David M. Brown)

But Pittsburgh Republican Chairman Bob Hillen said he won't back Roddey. "He doesn't seem to have the fire in his belly for all parts of the county, especially the city, in regards to the party," Hillen said.

We should probably get interested in whichever Republican candidate that the Republican from Pittsburgh steers us towards. Yet is this really a fire-in-the-belly-for-the-city issue, or is Bob Hillen just beefing?

And do we still care?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The band = Cansei de Ser Sexy [mildly NSFW]

Our Little List

1. We are thankful for our wild and woolly state, county, and city governments.

Each has its executives, councils, commissions and boards -- gears that fit surprisingly well, twisting and turning generally when one pays the requisite attention and applies the appropriate pressure. We are thankful for the constitutions, charters, codes and by-laws that enable us to do pretty much whatever we want as a people.

There are lots of governments in the world, and lots of democratic governments, and lots of democratic governments in the United States. The Comet is thankful that we are in these ways blessed.

2. Without comment on the federal government at this time, we are thankful for the Constitution of the United States. We are especially thankful for the Fourteenth and Ninth Amendments these days.

3. We are thankful for the Omni William Penn hotel, for Carnegie Library, for Subway Restaurants, for Brueggers Bagel Bakery, and for a few other hotspots that provide free Wi-Fi access in the Downtown area.

4. We are thankful for our present landlord, who has owned our present building for approaching sixty years, and who continues to maintain it excellently.

5. We are thankful for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

6. We are thankful for this land. Legend has it, maybe a hundred years after the first Thanksgiving, Pittsburghers were throwing themselves a party.

The party was held at "the Knoll" -- a giant gumdrop-shaped hill that was long ago removed to clear land for our stalwart Allegheny County Courthouse. The Pittsburghers gathered around their Knoll and made thirteen piles of wood -- representing the 13 colonies. They lit six bonfires to represent the six states that had ratified the Constitution. When the official word arrived from the capital, a seventh bonfire was lit for Pennsylvania -- the seventh and deciding state. Congratulations, you have a country.

The many, many Pittsburghers lit the remainder of the bonfires and danced wildly around them, beating drums and making music in celebration of their new nation. Legend has it, those Native Americans who were present at that frontier town, on business or diplomacy, turned to look at one another as though to say, "Oh my goodness. They may not know what they're doing, but we do. This land is so theirs."

Smoker and Jollification

State panel rejects 3 gun control bills.

"How many police officers have to become target practice before it stops?" he asked in an emotional voice. "I have sympathy for legislators. I know they're under a lot of pressure. The National Rifle Association is a machine, but it's time to say 'no' to the gun lobbyists." (P-G, Tom Barnes)

Problem is, the gun lobbyists can say "no" to them right back.


Giant drill to carve LRT tunnel from North Shore to Downtown starts slowly.

Construction workers snapped photos with cameras and cell phones, but to uninitiated observers, it was almost impossible to tell it was moving. (P-G, Daniel Malloy)

Headline writers for the print edition show they're not all bad.


Onorato acts like governor hopeful.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato says it's too early to speculate whether he'll run to succeed Gov. Ed Rendell in 2010. (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Okay then.


The postings on Schenley will continue until ambivalence subsides.

Objections to the intended high school reform package include doubts about the wisdom of grouping students grades six through 12 together, and fears that the plan was crafted by politicians not educators.

Call 412-622-3600 by noon today if you'd like to speak at the Special Public Hearing of the school board on Tuesday the 27th.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Our Penultimate Schenley Post?

Patrick Dowd and ourselves were exchanging thoughts on the closure of Schenley High School yesterday evening on the Burgh Report.

He brought a load of newly released data to our attention, in furtherance of what had been made public at the press conference.

For a moment, it felt like we really had him on the ropes.

We just got to suspecting that somewhere inside this 67 page document, Evaluation of Asbestos Containing Material Remediation and Encapsulation, the Roosevelt Conspiracy had hidden the secret evil truth of how to save Schenley at a reasonable cost.

Then the Admiral came out of nowhere.

Bram, all I can say is that, way back in my Navy days, I was the asbestos safety officer on board my cruiser. The one thing I learned is that, at the precise nanosecond that one does anything that might even potentially cause asbestos to be "disturbed" (let alone airborne), the costs become more or less impossible to either predict or contain. And if that's true in a 5-by-5 foot pump room with only one way in or out and built-in watertight doors, then a whole school would be a nightmare.

At the end of the day, we know that we need to close at least one high school, and probably even more than that. It only makes sense to close the one who's physical plant would be the costliest to repair.

What ... how did ... asbestos safety officer on your cruiser? How are we supposed to deal with that?

We are meeting with S.J. from the Save Schenley movement in about an hour. Unless she and/or someone else brings something heavy to the discussion, the Comet may have to bow out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Some Things Are Going Just Fine

The headline reads Allegheny County improves air pollution permit system. (P-G, Don Hopey)

We expected an article about:

1) Dan Onorato!! We're not worthy! We're not worthy!

2) We are continuing to become more business-friendly by means of not actually reading permit applications prior to approval.

We were so wrong!

The state statistics and federal program assessment run contrary to industry and development agency complaints that it takes too long to get an industrial installation permit in the county.

Emphasis the Comet's.

Those complaints have prompted county Chief Executive Dan Onorato to explore ending the 50-year-old county program and turning its permitting, monitoring and enforcement duties over to the state.

By all means, explore.

"There is not any meaningful contrast in issuing permits between the county and the DEP, either in terms of timeliness or quality," said David Campbell, chief of permits and technical assessment at EPA's regional office in Philadelphia.

Does anybody have a problem with David Campbell?

"Allegheny County does have a more complex set of sources, with coke, steel and chemical plants. It would naturally take longer to issue air permits there than in other areas," he said. "And it's not unusual for industry to complain. Everyone complains. But I've received no formal complaints about the timeliness of permitting there."

We have no problem with David Campbell.

"Responsiveness on permit applications will determine if Allegheny County manufacturers will be nimble in the global economy," said Ms. Klaber. "What we care about is that economic development and industries where there are exciting, new, clean projects are held up for no good reason, but because of red tape."

Nimble! Exciting! New! Clean! Red tape! The Allegheny Conference is having a real banner week.

"We've always maintained that our permitting times are compatible with other agencies, including the DEP," said Dr. Bruce Dixon, executive director of the county Health Department. "We continue to try to do what we need to do in the most expeditious fashion, but some of our industries are very large and their permits are very complicated.

You go ahead and take all the time you need, Bruce Dixon. You run that Allegheny County Health Department.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spontaneous Blogger Olympics

GOLD: The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat, for Allegheny Conference on Community Development Review 2007

China apparently has agreed to a cargo shipping route with Pittsburgh, making us a major import hub for the East, and also relieving the region of its feral cat problem.

SILVER: The Burgh Blog, for Dear sirs, PittGirl mined the archives

Hey, was Joe Pa coaching Penn State in 1919?
And a “smoker and jollification” sounds like a rocking good time.

BRONZE: Agent Ska, for Who is Dan Deasy?

It seems like he's been a pretty quiet character on the political scene.

Honorable Mentions:

The Busman gets his answer from the Ethics Hearing Board.

Null Space offers up the driest humor on the planet.

Rauterkus succinctly makes the popular case against Superintendent Roosevelt's version of high school reform -- and does so while bitterly launching a new and yet to be substantiated accusation.

F-Dzerzh gives yet another take on the Allegheny Conference -- this one through the prism of its "CEO."