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: Right now, PPS does not have enough of a role in preparing children for kindergarten. We need to change that! Pittsburgh’s existing pre-k programs are a model for early education in the state, and the district and city should work toward expanding PPS programs and access to pre-k more generally. Until the time we reach universal pre-K in Pittsburgh, the district can work with other entities to prepare children for kindergarten. The district can most immediately work with the City of Pittsburgh on its quality improvement fund that is designed bring more early education sites up to higher standards. The district can also partner with independent early childcare centers to make sure they are aware of what is expected of students once they reach kindergarten, and how these centers can best help their children become ready for the transition into PPS. We should also leverage Governor Wolf’s increased commitment to pre-k programs and funding in order to expand access to PPS’s own pre-k programs.
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: Hearing directly from students should be a priority for every school board member. As a school board member, I would attend school events to increase direct contact with students and encourage them to contact me directly with issues as they arise. I would want to encourage students to speak out, even if in protest. The recent student movements in response to gun violence and the Antwon Rose verdict show that our young people can express anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction constructively. I would invite and encourage students to speak at board meetings, and urge colleagues to seriously consider what they say. I would request that the superintendent document outcomes of his meetings with the Student Advisory Council and share them with the board. Finally, we as the board should make efforts to ensure we are hearing from a cross section of the student population, and not just pockets. We want to hear not just from the high achievers and those in school leadership positions, but also students in the We Promise program, for example. We should be encouraging all our students to speak up more often, and when they do speak we should be sure to listen.
Q: What are your top three priorities to improve the district?
A: On-Grade Reading - We need to collaboratively engage with the reality that too many of our students cannot read on grade level by third grade. We need the Pittsburgh community to come together to tackle this important equity issue – but constructively and without blame. That means making public commitments and collaborating with other entities such as public libraries, the city, and non-profit organizations. Charting a Realistic Path to Pre-K - Universal pre-K has to be the next big investment we make in education. Research underscores its importance for later school success, but there are also immediate and valuable economic benefits for working families. We must work with the state and the city to expand on commitments to increase early education, and ensure that Pittsburgh is prepared to expand pre-k services as soon as funding is available. Make Sure Teachers Have to Support They Need - Teachers have difficult jobs. Before implementing new policies, one of my priorities would be to check in with teachers about how the implementation of current policies are going on the ground and identify where they need support to make these policies and initiatives successful.
Q: What are three things the district is doing well and how will you build on that?
A: Policies with Promise - Overall, the school district has good ideas for policy direction and there have been laudable policies implemented recently. These include the district’s transgender and gender-expansive policy, the recent suspension ban for younger students, and the community schools initiative. I would want to build on these great policies by ensuring strong implementation and follow-up. Gifted Programming - As a parent, I have been impressed with the gifted programming for our fifth grader. However, as a district I believe we can do better in ensuring that the gifted offerings are available to more low-income and minority students, starting with offering universal testing for the gifted program. Since we know that not every PPS student will attend the Gifted Center, we should also be looking for ways to bring as many of the elements of the district’s gifted programming-- such as project based learning and more diversified course offerings-- into our home school classrooms. Pre-k - The PPS pre-k programs are held up as a model for early education across the state. The best thing we can do for this PPS initiative is expand it to more Pittsburgh families!
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: Doing difficult work can be satisfying in a functional setting. This is why I believe that getting the best teachers to work with our neediest students starts with hiring the best principals and other leadership into these schools. School leaders set the culture of the building and can make sure their teachers are made to feel valued, and are getting the support and resources they need to teach effectively. Getting both principals and teachers to remain in challenging environments can include some kind of additional incentives to make working in high-need areas more appealing. Finally, research shows that a cohort approach to bringing in new teachers to a challenging environment often yields better results than sending new teachers on their own. Such arrangements should include mentoring by experienced teachers.
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 district should build and maintain strong relationships with the area’s teaching colleges, as they do already in many cases. I would also advocate reaching further than just the regional universities, particularly in efforts to recruit more diverse teachers. This outreach can include to historically black colleges and universities as well as to regions that have a more diverse population than Western Pennsylvania. There district should also make efforts to move the timing of employment offers for new teachers to earlier in the year. Currently teachers receive offers from other districts far before PPS even begins its hiring process. This means there is a much smaller pool of teachers remaining by the time our hiring gets underway.
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: Student safety is essential for an effective learning environment, and for a wholesome environment to grow up in. PPS’s existing anti-bullying policies should be fully enforced and strengthened where needed. Every adult in a school building should be fully trained, and the board should ensure that the anti-bullying training is implemented uniformly and thoroughly so that no student who is “different” feels threatened or unsafe. Teachers should also receive ongoing training and support for culturally affirming teaching, trauma informed instruction, and positive behavioral interventions and support, which can all be helpful in supporting underrepresented groups and making them feel welcome in a school setting.
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: Students can’t focus on school if they are distracted by life’s other challenges. Community schools should be institutions where an integrated network of services and resources are available and proactively offered to students and families in need, in order to address as many of these outside distractions as possible. I would like to see the community schools in Pittsburgh properly funded and supported for the long term. As a board member, I would focus on making sure the district conducts comprehensive needs assessments- ensuring input from families and community members- creating formal, constructive, and long-lasting collaborations with agencies, designing implementation plans for each school, and hiring skilled coordinators at each school.
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: PPS needs to remove barriers to reaching families. For families with limited English proficiency, this starts with having and knowing how to utilize the appropriate translations services to effectively communicate. For less common languages, this may require written documents to be sent out of the district to be translated, which adds to the turnaround time needed for communication. Teachers may also have to contend with the fact that some languages are oral-only, with no written form to translate written documents into. Being aware of these needs and taking them into account in planning is important when reaching out to these families. This may also mean that the best thing schools can do in these situations is go meet the families where they are and try to set up opportunities to speak in advance of important events, changes, or other communication needs with appropriate in-person or telephone translation services. As a board member, I would have discussions with the administration to ensure such resources are available, and make sure the schools I represent are aware of the challenges and the resources offered.
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: Research indicates that social and emotional intelligences are important but often overlooked skills necessary for success in later life and professional settings. Social and emotional learning should become an increasing part of what we teach in our schools, potentially in early education as opportunities for pre-k through PPS are expanded. Students today also need skills in how to adapt to change and think critically, given the faster pace of change in technology, shifts in industries, and implications this has for the skills in demand at a given point in time. The technological changes we've experienced have also led to a greater need for media literacy and the ability to parse truth from the abundance of information available to everyone with a mobile device. Such media literacy should go along with other life fundamentals, such as financial literacy, in offerings to students. Identifying curriculum with elements of these skills is a great way to get them into all schools. Also important will be establishing strong collaborations with employers in the region to both ensure PPS is teaching the most needed skills, and to create the networks needed for later jobs.
District 4 Schools
Pittsburgh Colfax K-8
Pittsburgh Linden K-5
Pittsburgh Allderdice High School
District 4 Neighborhoods
Parts of North Oakland
Point Breeze- Park Place
Parts of Shadyside