District 2-Kirk Rys
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: PPS has a role in preparing some children to be successful through its Early Childhood Program, but it’s limited to a large extent by external factors. Such factors include the lack by available seats, the lack of certified early childhood educators and the lack of sufficient subsidies. To its credit, PPS is attempting to address these limiting factors. It’s established a CTE Early Childhood Education program to address the lack of available teachers. It is also looking to increase income limits on existing subsidies in order to allow more families to benefit from these subsidies. But society (not just PPS) must do more. We need to make universal 3 and 4 year old pre-k one of the city’s and state’s priorities in order to prepare every child to be successful by the time they enter kindergarten. With their buy-in, PPS is well-positioned to be the primary provider of pre-k education that is available to all the City’s 3 and 4 year olds.
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: The Board’s primary responsibility is the governance of the district – it provides the long-term direction of the District, and to that end it establishes budget priorities and hires a leader to implement that vision. The Board needs to ensure that all participants and constituents, particularly students, are given an opportunity to participate in developing that vision. To that end, beyond having students participate in open board meetings, I intend to make myself available throughout the year to meet with students, including arranging organized discussions, in order to give students a forum to have their voices and concerns heard.
Q: What are your top three priorities to improve the district?
A: My top three priorities are: (i) ensuring that every child, regardless of their place of residence, has access to a high-quality school. (ii) responsible and effective use of tax dollars. (iii) preparing all students to succeed in a 21st Century economy.
Q: What are three things the district is doing well and how will you build on that?
A: Three things the district is doing well include: (i) giving students a voice and acknowledging them as stakeholders. As noted earlier, I would encourage them to participate in the Board room, and I would look to arrange opportunities to speak with them at times and locations convenient for them (in school during the school day). (ii) the creation of a pilot to evaluate a larger number of students for Gifted and Talented services. I would want to see a way to see this expanded across the district and I would want to test long-term outcomes for these students to see if they are seeing greater academic outcomes based on their identification. (iii) Early childhood education. We must applaud the district’s early childhood educators and their results. As noted earlier, we must build off of these programs to make these services available to more/all children.
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: Ultimately, this is not something one board member can do alone. I would like to work with the rest of the board, the administration and the PFT to ensure that principals are creating school cultures that ensure teachers want to teach in all of our buildings, especially those where our children face the greatest number of obstacles.
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 best way for any employer to attract the best employees is to ensure that their place of work is one where people want to be. This means having competitive salaries, creating an environment where people feel respected, recruiting both locally and nationally, and providing benefits that make people want to stay in PPS long term. Many people entering the teaching profession are no longer doing it with the thought they will be in it for 30 years, so we also need to have a long term pipeline that acknowledges the millennial approach to employment which is more transient.
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: First off, let me state my full, unwavering support for the fair and safe treatment of students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, immigrants and refugee students, and students within other protected classes as well - I pledge never to support any policy that promotes any discriminatory treatment towards any of these groups. My hope is that in time, and hopefully in my lifetime, such diversity is not only tolerated by [most] all, but appreciated as a core strength of our pluralistic society. Affirmatively, as a board we need to set appropriate, objective policies that foster an open and welcoming environment, policies that respect the right of an individual to participate without masking who they are. As a board, we must also insist upon accountability from the superintendent to ensure that such policies are properly and effectively implemented.
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: Research is catching up with common sense, recognizing that community schooling has tangible benefits for schools in high poverty neighborhoods. As a board member, I would continue to encourage the development and expansion of the community schools model. I would hope that community schooling already exists at some informal level in every school, if nothing else allowing the school facility to be used as resource for the community. But my vision for a formal community schooling program would include a program heavily integrated with community resources, with the district responsible primarily for coordination of community schooling activities, taking the lead on the education-related activities, and using school facilities as a place to gather. The district, however, would look to community, city and state resources to take the lead on non-educational related activities, including the funding and staffing of such activities.
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: The community schools model can provide one opportunity to better engage with families with limited English proficiency, particularly groups such as refugee families who have settled here in numbers. Working with members of the refugee community, the community schools model can create centers of outreach that engage with and integrate such families.
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: At an early age, it’s self-apparent that literacy and social skills are fundamental building blocks. We can ensure most children develop these skills through the implementation of universal 3 and 4 year pre-k, but as stated earlier, this does require significant support from the City and State. I would use my position as a board member to advocate for this support. In latter years, I defer to principals, teachers and other experts to determine what skills are appropriate for their students at that time. Ultimately, the district’s long-term vision must be the provision and oversight of a system comprised solely of high quality schools, which is a departure from the current system where some students’ only option is a feeder pattern into a low-performing school. To allow each school to meet their students’ needs, I would work for a system that allowed for some level of local programmatic and budgetary control.
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