First-ever forums allow Jewish participation in search for school superintendent
For the first time in the history of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, forums are being held to garner community input prior to a search for a new superintendent, according to Regina Holley, school board president.
Broad participation is necessary, she said, even though the nine school board members represent divergent populations.
“We still want to hear from the community itself,” she said.
The board intends to have a new superintendent hired by mid-May, replacing current superintendent Linda Lane, who announced her retirement last year. It will be collecting input from stakeholders through emails, phone calls, an online survey and seven community forums, the first of which was held last Thursday night at East Liberty’s Barack Obama Academy of International Studies.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is encouraging Jewish community members to express their opinions as to what qualifications should be prioritized in the national superintendent search and to come out for the public forums.
An email circulated by the Federation to its constituents last week provided information on how to tender input.
Involvement from the Jewish community on this issue is important because a large number of Jewish children attend the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and a vibrant public school system is critical in attracting new families to the city, according to Josh Sayles, director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council.
“The Jewish community in Pittsburgh is actually the last major Jewish community in the U.S. to be based within city limits, with the exception of New York, which is a little different,” Sayles said, adding that a robust public school system is a key component in maintaining “a thriving Jewish community in the city and making it a place where families want to stay or to come to from all over or to return to.”
While Jewish day schools also are important, according to Sayles, “the fact is that the majority of Jewish children get their education at public schools.”
The Federation is not taking a position as to who should be selected as the next superintendent and will make no effort to speak to the school board on behalf of the Jewish community, Sayles said.
“We just want to make sure that the Jewish community knows how to make its voice heard,” he said.
No job description has yet been composed, according to Holley, but will be generated following the compilation of community input. After that, the board will seek applications for the position.
Holley put to rest any speculation that she might be considering applying for the position herself, although she is a longtime educator who retired from the Pittsburgh Public Schools in 2010 after 35 years and has been a member of the board since 2011.
“I am absolutely not thinking of applying for the position,” she said.
All information collected from the seven community forums will be compiled along with input from emails, phone calls and the survey and then will be posted on the district’s website, Holley said.
Holley, who participated in the survey as well, said she would like the next superintendent to be “someone who has improved achievement for all students and has a knowledge base for urban education and what that means for a city.”
About 100 people attended the first forum at Obama.
In attendance, and addressing the crowd, was Pittsburgh Allderdice senior David Frisch. Frisch instigated an effort last month to form a student board, comprised of representatives from all Pittsburgh public high schools, to advise the school board on a wide range of matters, including the characteristics desired in a new superintendent.
Frisch, a graduate of Community Day School, said his efforts to form a student board have been well received.
“The school board and the community have acknowledged that students matter and should be heard,” he said in an interview.
Students will be speaking at each of the coming forums as well, Frisch said.
“We want a superintendent who will work with the students and hear what the students have to say and who will look for student opinion on a number of topics,” he said. “This is a no-brainer. Students should be able to think about their schools.”
The next five forums will be held at Brashear High School (Jan. 19), Carrick High School (Jan. 21), the Oakland monthly public hearing meeting at the administration building (Jan. 25), Langley K-8 (Jan. 26) and U-Prep at the Hill District’s Milliones building (Jan. 28). U-Prep will also host a student forum next month. A forum was also scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 13 at Oliver Citywide Academy.
Each gathering will start at 6 p.m.; speakers may sign up beginning at 5 p.m. Feedback can also be submitted through a toll-free phone number, 888-839-5445, or emailed to email@example.com. More details are posted at pittsupsearch.com. Visit pps.k12.pa.us/Page/4043 for more information on procedures for testifying at public hearings.
The board also plans to apprise families of the process with robocalls and radio ads.
The board will begin receiving applications for superintendent in February, and will screen and interview candidates in March and April. It plans to hold a news conference to announce its choice prior to May 15.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.