There is a deep bond between the Jewish community and Pittsburgh Public Schools, and Marshall Dayan recognizes it.
“Our community has traditionally been educated in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and Pittsburgh Public Schools are critical to our community,” the PAJC president said.
Karen Hochberg, executive director of PAJC, sees it, too.
“Historically, many of the teachers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools have been members of the Jewish community. That’s why we have Rosh Hashanah and Jewish holidays off in the city schools.”
Yet even with historical ties, current efforts are under way to strengthen the relationship.
PAJC, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Community Relations Council, the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition and Pittsburgh Public Schools presented an engagement session last week, titled, “The State of the Pittsburgh Public Schools: Whole Child Whole Community Dialogue.”
The meeting, which was held at East End Cooperative Ministries, enabled participants to learn more about Pittsburgh Public Schools from Linda Lane, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, and several of her staff.
Through lectures and breakout sessions, attendees familiarized themselves with Lane’s plan for Pittsburgh Public Schools. Specifically, Lane wants all area children to graduate from a two- or four-year college, or receive a workforce education; and she wants this accomplished in a financially responsible fashion.
While Pittsburgh Public Schools holds regular meetings, this event was designed to disseminate Lane’s message to new audiences.
“We have been targeting different communities to reach different demographics, ” said Erika Fearby Jones, special assistant to the superintendent.
“We are trying to listen to the community and get feedback regarding Dr. Lane’s plan.”
Prior to meeting in the East End, Pittsburgh Public Schools held open dialogues in the West End and North Side, at the Urban League of Pittsburgh Charter School (located in the old Congregation B’nai Israel synagogue on Negley Avenue in East Liberty), and with After-School community partners.
Perhaps because of locale, topic, or PAJC and Jewish Federation’s sponsorship, the East End venture drew several members from the Jewish community.
Mimi Botkin, a longtime educator, enjoyed hearing about Lane’s work, and applauded the meeting’s format.
“I like that it was broken into smaller sessions, but I wish that it was longer,” she said.
Other participants appreciated the chance to speak with Lane directly, but questioned the absence of students from the program.
With so much communal interest in Lane’s plan, efforts are under way to learn more.
PAJC has been studying public education in Pittsburgh, and already held several events on the topic, Dayan said. “We have a huge stake in the success of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and it’s important for us historically and continuously.”
Added Hochberg, “There’s nothing that would make us happier than to be the number one public education system. And the way to do that is to engage parents.”
Lane said she welcomed Jewish support for the school system.
“The benefit of this city is the diversity of its communities,” she said. “We’re really excited about getting this opportunity to engage with people. We hope to continue that relationship.”
(Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)