District 2-David E. Atkinson
Q: What role do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools plays in preparing every child to be successful by the time they arrive at kindergarten? And how will you partner with local government, community organizations, and private childcare centers to ensure more children have access to high-quality Pre-k and child care?
A: I am a PPS Dad who has a track record of working with schools and community partners to get things done. I spent more than 8 years on the Highland Park Community Council sponsoring tours, hosting school leaders and promoting middle school mentoring. I was awarded the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service to the Community for working with the School District, government and community groups. I understand that through collaboration we will build the innovative, inclusive and equitable schools our students and City need. I would propose a study by an Independent Commission to assess and make recommendations on how the School District should be positioned for the future support of universal pre-kindergarten and extended care with special attention paid to integrating Developmentally Appropriate Practices through 3rd grade. Schools across the nation have turned away from evidence based research which shows that physical, social, emotional and cognitive learning are related. We should return to traditional methods that emphasize play based learning, social development and physical exercise through 3rd grade.
Q: Superintendent Dr. Hamlet has started the Student Advisory Council to incorporate student voice into district decision making. How will you promote student voice into the Board’s decision making process?
A: I will incorporate student views into my decision making process. I teach at a free cyber security camp for high school students. I speak to students about careers in IT, and I promote free STEM programs for high school students. All these activities – as well as the Student Advisory Council – will give me the opportunity to listen to students and learn more about their perspectives.
Q: What are your top three priorities to improve the district?
A: DEVELOPING AN INCLUSIVE CULTURE IN OUR SCHOOLS: I will work to make changes that foster an inclusive environment in all our schools. I understand the urgent need for qualified STEM professionals and believe that engaging underrepresented groups in high quality math and science programs will boost our economy and national defense. CHARTING A COURSE TO UNIVERSAL PRE-K WITH DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICES THROUGH THIRD GRADE: I will strive to prepare the School District for universal pre-kindergarten that supports the unique physical, emotional, social and cognitive development of young children. I understand that families need affordable, high quality pre-kindergarten and extended care. REALIGNING THE DISTRICT TO SERVE STUDENTS, FAMILIES & COMMUNITIES BETTER: I will work to realign feeder patterns, programming and school configuration with changes in the District, City and workforce. I understand the District must sustain enrollment, fund all schools equitably and prepare students for both traditional and 21st century careers.
Q: What are three things the district is doing well and how will you build on that?
A: 1) I support the District’s efforts to implement restorative justice practices. The new Pennsylvania truancy law (Act 138 of 2016) provides clear guidelines and more options to deal with truancy. The new law should help put students back in school by identifying the root cause of truancy, developing attendance plans and providing supports through the Focus on Attendance program. I would work with the District, the Courts and service providers to develop consistent protocols for truancy that support the child's emotional growth and well being. 2) I appreciate the District’s investment in music and art. My children have benefited greatly from opportunities for enrichment at their school, and every child in our District should have the opportunity to explore the arts. 3) In 2016, PPS engaged the Council of Great City Schools to develop recommendations on the School District’s organizational structure, instructional programs and other functions. To build on the success of the Strategic Plan, I would propose a study by an Independent Commission to develop recommendations for feeder patterns, programming, school configurations and early childhood education.
Q: Teachers are the district’s greatest resource, how will you ensure that teachers and supports are distributed to the students with the most need?
A: The School District faces a number of enrollment challenges including declining enrollment, over-enrolled schools and under-enrolled schools. I would propose a study by an Independent Commission to assess changes in enrollment and develop recommendations for a realignment of feeder patterns, programming, school configurations and early childhood education that would help to balance and sustain enrollment at our schools. By considering the impact of these recommendation on all communities, especially low income and under-served communities, realignment would improve the equitable distribution of teachers and supports throughout the District.
Q: Teaching in Pittsburgh Public Schools is a great opportunity. As a board member how will you promote teaching in the district so that we attract high quality diverse teachers?
A: The School District should seek to attract and retain high quality, diverse teachers. A number of strategies can be utilized by human resources to reach qualified applicants such as college fair recruiting, online job sites and career development paths for PPS staff. However, the District must also develop strategies that address burn out to retain these valued professionals.
Q: School Safety is always a top priority, and part of that is creating a welcoming and safe environment. How will you work to equally advance the psychological and physical safety of students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, immigrants and refugee students?
A: I will work to support the psychological and physical safety of students by fostering an inclusive school environments that affirm the inherent dignity and worth of all students including students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, immigrants and refugee students. I will favor a trauma informed approach utilizing resources such as social workers that develop the emotional well-being of our vulnerable students. Schools must be physically safe spaces, but physical safety takes many forms. When the Obama Academy moved to the Peabody facility, I was concerned about the safety of the 1000 students using the intersection at N Highland Ave and E Liberty Blvd which at the time did not have pedestrian signals or painted cross walks. I worked with the School District, the City, Allegheny County, East Liberty Development and other community partners to develop a written mobility plan. Parts of this plan were incorporated into a Transit Reinvestment District which spent $1.8 million making the intersection safe for pedestrians. For these efforts, I received the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service to the Community.
Q: What is your vision of a community school? How will you as a board member work to create partnerships to strengthen our schools?
A: I believe that all children should have access to high quality education and other services that support social, emotional and physical health. Community Schools can play an important part in delivering these services to children. When we needed an extended care provider at my school, I managed the request for proposal process – and I was surprised how much the District is charging to provide a program that helps working families. As a board member, I would support reducing these fees and working with groups like APOST to coordinate high quality extended care at more schools. I understand that families need affordable, high quality extended care.
Q: What resources do you think schools need to better engage with families with limited English proficiency? How will you advocate for those resources?
A: I will work to make changes that foster an inclusive environment in all our schools, and I am committed to supporting students who speak English as a second language – including immigrant students and refugee students. I had the opportunity to talk to a group of PPS ESL students about careers in Information Technology. I will continue to listen to and learn from ESL students and their families to ensure that ESL students get the unique resources they need.
Q: What are the most important skills students need to be ready for life/ career? What will you do as a board member to make sure Pittsburgh students get these skills regardless of what school they attend?
A: Social skills are some of the most important skills students need to prepare for their futures. We must be able to listen to each other and engage in civil discourse to improve our School District and our City. I spent more than 8 years on the Highland Park Community Council working with schools and community groups to sponsor tours, host school leaders and promote middle school mentoring. I have worked with many principals, district administrators, community based organizations and other partners to get things done. I understand that through collaboration we will build the innovative, inclusive and equitable schools our students and City need.
District 2 SCHOOLS
Pittsburgh Arsenal PreK-5
Pittsburgh Arsenal 6-8
Pittsburgh Dilworth PreK-5
Pittsburgh Fulton PreK-5
Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8
Pittsburgh Spring Hill K-5
Pittsburgh Sunnyside PreK-8
Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5
Pittsburgh Spring Garden Early Childhood Center
District 2 Neighborhoods
Parts of East Liberty
Parts of Bloomfield