Lynda Wrenn may have Pittsburgh’s best and worst unpaid position. As president of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board, Wrenn has a bird’s-eye view of growth occurring within the district. The flip side is the Point Breeze resident is also privy to the most unfortunate matters. On the day of a recent interview, she received an email that morning alerting her and the school board that Jonathan Freeman, a 16-year-old Allderdice High School honors student, was shot and killed the evening before in Homewood.
Unsettled by the loss, Wrenn said, “It’s hard because the community is still raw.”
Months before Wrenn sat down to discuss protecting schools and delivering best practices with the Chronicle, she and her husband were in North Carolina for a family wedding when her phone “blew up.” It was Saturday morning, Oct. 27. Students were at Allderdice taking the SAT while a gunman was murdering Jewish congregants one mile north inside the Tree of Life synagogue building.
Wrenn praised Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and administrators who tackled immediate concerns, such as determining what transpired, providing school security and ensuring test takers safe transportation home.
“We certainly didn’t want any students walking anywhere near it,” she said.
There was also the issue of initial dissemination of the news, as during the exam students did not have access to phones.
“There’s a lot of things to think about,” she said.
The superintendent and administrators handled the heavy lifting, including creating a plan for Monday morning. Apart from providing students, staff and faculty with counseling and resources, there were logistical concerns, such as relocating a school bus stop at Shady and Wilkins avenues, the site of the Tree of Life building. But as she and her husband drove home, still trying to make sense of the events, Wrenn communicated with parents and decision makers.
The role can be challenging, but it has its rewards, she explained.
For example, she said, as a school board, “we’ve had some good policies.”
Wrenn pointed to a July 2018 resolution declaring support for “sensible gun safety legislation,” and a June 2016 unanimous approval for a new transgender and gender expansive student policy.
“While those aren’t strictly academic, we try to do things that affect our students’ overall well-being,” she said. “Obviously if you’re serving on school board you care about kids a lot.”
Wrenn’s interest in education began years ago both as a volunteer and student. A mother of four, she served as PTO president of Linden Elementary School and a classroom volunteer and tutor at the Point Breeze institution. She is a past-president of the Point Breeze Organization and served on the Summer Dreamers Academy and the Gifted Education task forces. Additionally, she is a board member of Temple Sinai and completed an NCJW leadership development program.
Wrenn holds a master’s degree in teaching from Chatham University and did student teaching at Pittsburgh Spring Hill K-5. Exposure to city schools on the North Side introduced her to “inequity in the system,” she said.
Increasing accessibility has been important ever since.
“I ran on equity and ran on the fact that we have to make our schools attractive options for our families,” she explained. “A lot of families in our district have the choice of a lot of different schools, and we want to make sure we keep the kids in our schools and keep our schools vibrant and challenging and successful.”
Wrenn pointed to efforts in “closing the achievement gap” and expanding early childhood.
“We realize how important early childhood education is for leveling the playing field and giving kids the tools they need to succeed in school,” she said. “By the time they get to school, some kids are already behind because they don’t have all of the skills of other kids who have been afforded quality preschools.”
There are other aspects regarding Pittsburgh’s schools that Wrenn would love to address, like implementing a later start time to the school day, but such matters may be left to her successor.
Wrenn was elected board president in December. Her four-year term as a member is up December 2019, and she has chosen not to run again. She is hoping to find work that aligns with her management experiences gained as a volunteer on the school board.
Wrenn is just one of nine elected representatives who serve as policy makers for the School District.
“I think that everyone on the school board is very committed, very giving of their time and energy,” she said. “They all have the best interests of the students at heart.
“We certainly have challenges but we’re owning them and working toward making the schools the best we can.”
As for what else current parents or constituents should know, she added, “We owe it to our students, we want vibrant schools for our communities in all of our neighborhoods and people should check them out.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.