300 turn out to meet new city school chief

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When Pittsburgh Allderdice High School junior Atiya Irvin-Mitchell got her chance to meet the new school superintendent, Linda Lane thanked her for coming and asked if she had finished her homework.

"It cannot be my fault," Dr. Lane told her after Atiya said it was done for the most part and that she would finish the rest.

Dr. Lane had been the deputy superintendent for about four years, but Monday night was her first official community meeting, featuring a "meet-and-greet" with adults and students lined up to talk with her.

She greeted them warmly, smiling, listening, shaking hands and hugging some of those wishing her well.

That was followed by an hourlong on-stage conversation -- including written questions from the audience -- with Lynne Hayes-Freeland of KDKA-TV.

An estimated 300 people attended the event at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Downtown. It was hosted by the Black Political Empowerment Project, the Urban League of Pittsburgh and A+ Schools. Most of the school board attended.

Atiya thinks Dr. Lane will do a good job. "I've heard a lot of good things about her," she said.

In the school auditorium, Dr. Lane's reception was so positive that her comments were bookended by standing ovations at the beginning and the end. The last ovation was followed by a bouquet of roses.

In an introduction, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President John Tarka called her an "extraordinary leader."

Dr. Lane and Ms. Hayes-Freeland sat in cushioned chairs on the stage, complete with a rug and potted plants, talking as if they were in someone's living room.

Questions during the session included the personal: Dr. Lane was born in West Virginia even though her family lived in Texas at the time because her father didn't believe the then-segregated hospitals in Texas would provide the best care.

And they included the professional: Dr. Lane noted the importance of using the support she has now to improve the schools. "I love it that you're here tonight. It goes beyond this," she said.

She wants to turn that support into "action for kids."

She said her biggest challenge was "still centered around moving the achievement agenda and getting kids Promise ready," a reference to the academic and attendance requirements to be eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program.

She said she was willing to look at good news and bad so she can address issues.

"We can't be afraid of our own data," she said. "It's like getting on the scale or balancing your checkbook. The news might not be good, but you have to know."

Dr. Lane said her plan for her first 100 days as superintendent would soon be on the district's website -- www.pps.k12.pa.us.

She said some of the issues she would look at in the coming year include the principal evaluation process; further developing the Promise Readiness Corps aimed at helping the transition into high school; and building relationships with constituencies in the community.

While there is already an Excellence for All parent group, she is planning to start an Excellence for All civic and community group.

Dr. Lane said she believed that it was important for teachers to know their craft but added, "In the heart of it, you've got to love the kids. They know."

Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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