District 4-Pam Harbin
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: Through collaboration, Pittsburgh can be a leader in this area. Investing in early childhood is one of the smartest things we can do, with lifetime benefits for individuals and huge long-term savings for the community. We need universal, high-quality, developmentally appropriate, and inclusive early childhood education and child care from birth to age 5. Importantly, any funding initiatives for universal PreK should be used to fund existing public programs where teachers earn a living wage and have the right to unionize. And, we must take care to intentionally remove language barriers, physical access barriers, and any other barriers to access. PPS currently operates 82 preschool classrooms and 6 Head Start classrooms in 35 locations scattered throughout the city. We are by far the largest provider of early childhood education in the city. In addition, we support and collaborate with 20 local childcare agencies to provide comprehensive services for children and families. I will work with city, county, state officials, teachers union, foundation and business community to ensure all of our city’s children have access to affordable, high quality early childhood education and care.
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: Over the last 12 years, as a public education and disability advocate, I have worked with students to address concerns regarding punitive discipline practices, lack of culturally relevant curriculum and inclusive practices, issues with the school environment, bullying, racism, and discrimination. In this work, I also helped facilitate student voice at public hearings, direct actions, and student-led conversations. Youth in PPS have helped to push for a district-wide transgender policy, a K-2 suspension ban for non-violent minor infractions, and the overhaul of the student code of conduct. As a board member, I won't stop elevating student voice. I will create additional opportunities for board members to hear from all students giving them agency in the policies that will most affect their everyday lives and their ability to succeed at school. I will push for a policy to add public hearings at each of the high schools during daytime hours so that students can easily participate. Students have always had, and will continue to have, my full attention and appreciation when it comes to input on their educational outcomes.
Q: What are your top three priorities to improve the district?
A: Improve student outcomes: I will promote policy for smaller class sizes, less testing, allocation of resources to schools based on need not numbers of students, restoring adequate staffing levels, additional advanced courses district wide, restoration of music and art, culturally relevant curriculum, later start times, and the improvement of the special ed/ 504/ gifted ed/ English learner systems. Create welcoming, safe, and supportive schools: I will promote policy for trauma informed, hate-free, and decriminalized schools. Our staff should reflect our student body. Only policy that is informed by students, parents, teachers, principals, and administration working together will build the trusted communities our schools need. Collaborate with city, county, state, teachers union, foundation and business community: I will advocate to expand collaboration with the broader community to continue the work of community schools, early childhood ed, Career Tech, and after school programs while centering the voices of students, parents, and teachers as experts. Community development must be planned together taking care not to displace our families while we build a city that works for all.
Q: What are three things the district is doing well and how will you build on that?
A: The recent restoration of nurses to all of our schools was crucial for our students. I will advocate to increase other support staff to focus on child physical and emotional health like paraprofessionals, librarians, and social workers. Currently there are students who are kept from having recess because schools don’t have the resources to provide necessary supervision. PPS has prioritized positive school climates with a focus on Restorative Practices and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Now we need to ensure proper resources for implementation of these programs as well as dedicated staff to work with students, teachers, and parents to create safe, supportive, and welcoming schools. PPS has significantly expanded opportunities for students to have a voice in shaping their education. PPS should build on this work, making sure students are represented from all schools, all demographics, and have plenty of opportunity to be heard by adult decision makers. When students feel connected to their school and are treated with respect, they will thrive.
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: Schools are communities made up of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and support staff. For a school community to thrive, and to properly educate its students with the most need, we must get multiple pieces right. Currently we have a system where traditionally disadvantaged students with high levels of need are consolidated in a few schools, we have high principal turnover, and many of our schools lack the resources necessary to educate all students. We need our school leaders to set school priorities, maintain a positive teaching and learning environment, build relationships, and collaborate with and listen to students, teachers, staff, and families. Teachers must be valued and respected as professionals, and have ongoing quality embedded professional development and support in order to teach the wide spectrum of students. Addressing teacher trauma and health must become a priority for the District. I will support policies that improve conditions for learning and teaching, ensure we have great principals and teachers in every school, and remove barriers for traditionally disadvantaged students, so that they can thrive in any PPS school.
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: Recruiting and retaining highly-qualified and diverse educators should be a priority of our district. We have a responsibility to our many students with diverse identities to recruit and retain more teachers that look like and share identities with them. I will prioritize efforts to recruit talented, certified diverse teachers with varying identities. Additionally, I will push for expanding existing programs to "grow our own” teachers through our teaching magnet, currently at Brashear High School, which provides an opportunity for students to get hands on teaching experience while in High School, and through the brand new Career Tech Education program for Early Childhood Education, which will be introduced at Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12. Programs like this provide the opportunity for those students who graduate from PPS and go on to receive an education degree, to have a path for a professional career with Pittsburgh Public Schools. I will support collaboration with local universities and community partners that create career pathways into teaching for our paraprofessionals, parent volunteers and adults who work for community partners of PPS and want to become teachers.
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: Welcoming and safe environments for all student groups mentioned in this question, including those not mentioned - disabled students and students who are homeless or in foster care, and those experiencing trauma - has been my advocacy priority for the last 12 years. Those efforts have resulted in a new Community Schools policy, keeping the school police from becoming armed with guns in school, positive changes to the Student Code of Conduct, and a change in policy to end suspensions for minor infractions for K-2 students which has significantly reduced the number of days of missed school. I also supported the student-led Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming policy, the Sanctuary Schools resolution, and the resolution for gun-free schools. We must celebrate and value each student, stop criminalizing them, and stop erasing their unique intersectional identities. I will prioritize adding social workers and counselors, adding staff to support a positive school environment, and expanding the suspension ban for minor non-violent infractions to further improve safe and welcoming school environments.
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: As a parent member of the Great Public Schools coalition, I helped bring the Community Schools model to Pittsburgh, where there are currently 8 designated schools. Community Schools are important because children living in poverty are disadvantaged in so many ways, all creating barriers and obstacles to learning - that teachers alone can’t remove. The Community Schools model, where a site coordinator connects students with Out-of-School Time programs and in-school supports, has proven to be a successful model and should be expanded. Care must be taken to have the authentic participation of parents, students, and teachers in all planning, implementation, and monitoring of community schools. With Community Schools, site coordinators are able to assess the resources available in a particular community and match those resources with the needs of individual students and their families. It’s great that we have a district policy and a collaborative steering committee, on which I participate, to move community schools forward. If elected I look forward to strengthening existing partnerships with current steering committee partners.
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: Families with limited English proficiency are protected under state and federal law and can’t be discriminated against or denied participation on the basis of their national origin or limited English proficiency. The district recently changed policy to increase parent/guardian engagement, to require communications to parents/guardians be presented in their preferred language and mode, and to provide Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents equal access to the resources, supports, and services provided to all families and students in the District. Any information shared with families that are proficient in English must be shared with families that are not proficient in English, translated into their prefered language. Importantly, schools must not rely on students, friends, or untrained staff to provide translation to families. The capability and capacity of each school must now be evaluated to determine what resources are needed to ensure all of our English Learners, immigrant students, and their families feel welcome and have the support they need to fully participate and succeed.
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: Many students struggle in college, career, and life because they lack one or more of these fundamental skills that because of the increased focus on standardized testing, are no longer taught in school: how to organize class materials, how to plan and prioritize assignments, how to study, how to manage emotions and stress, how to build positive relationships, how to manage conflicts, and how to solve educational as well as interpersonal problems. In order to ensure students have all of these critical skills, we must make the intentional teaching of these skills a district-wide priority. I’m encouraged that the district has a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) in place, a system that when properly used will identify when a student lacks one of these skills. I would advocate to improve the MTSS system to give teachers and staff professional development, adequate time, and support staff to be able to implement it with fidelity. When these skills are explicitly taught, practiced, and retaught, not only will students be well prepared for college, career, and life, but we will see positive results in student achievement.
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