Plan for city schools could shuffle students again

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An Ohio firm's restructuring plan for the Pittsburgh Public Schools would continue a consolidation begun three years ago and, in some ways, ask more of residents than the last round of school closings did.

The public's first opportunity to comment on DeJong Inc.'s plan will come at the school board's regular monthly public hearing at 7 p.m. today at district headquarters in Oakland. Residents have until noon today to sign up to speak by calling the superintendent's office.

As of midday Friday, only two residents had signed up to speak about the plan. Four others had signed up to speak about Pittsburgh Montessori PreK-8 in Friendship and Pittsburgh Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park -- schools that would be affected by the plan -- but they didn't indicate the nature of their remarks. In all, 12 residents had registered to speak on a variety of topics.

In 2006, the district closed 22 schools, which were housed in 18 buildings, to save money and shore up academics.

DeJong's plan, also designed to cut costs by trimming excess capacity, would affect 35 schools and two early-childhood centers. Eight schools and 15 buildings would close. Other schools would receive adjustments in grade configurations or feeder patterns.

The school board does not plan an immediate vote on the proposal, which DeJong based on enrollment projections and the maintenance needs of about 80 district buildings.

District officials said they will factor in additional criteria -- the district's academic needs, for example -- and at some point present a modified consolidation plan for board consideration.

All consolidation plans raise thorny questions: which schools to keep and which to let go, for example, and what to do with magnets and other popular programs to be salvaged from closed schools.

The DeJong plan brings additional challenges.

The 2006 restructuring dealt only with elementary, K-8 and middle schools. DeJong's plan would close two high schools -- Oliver on the North Side and Peabody in East Liberty -- with entrenched identities.

DeJong's plan would require some students to cross a river to get to and from schools -- and crossing a river is something neighborhood-centered Pittsburghers have been reluctant to do.

Oliver's students would be reassigned to Pittsburgh Langley High School, across the Ohio River in Sheraden. Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8 on the North Side would be closed and its students moved to Pittsburgh Classical 6-8, across the Ohio in Crafton Heights.

Also, some schools that experienced change in 2006 would be asked to change again under DeJong's plan.

In the East End, Faison and Lincoln schools, converted three years ago from a K-5 to K-8 configuration -- with separate primary and intermediate buildings -- would revert to K-5 and one building under DeJong's proposal. Their middle-grade students would go to an expanded Westinghouse High School in Homewood.

Vann, a Hill District school that went from K-5 to K-8 three years ago and is back to a K-5 this school year, would close under DeJong's plan. Pittsburgh Montessori, which changed buildings in 2006, would shed its middle grades and become an elementary school.

Some school district observers are keeping an open mind while the district evaluates DeJong's recommendations and comes up with its own plan.

"The bottom line for me is, I want to see, feel and understand how it's going to help our children achieve," said Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

Carey Harris, executive director of the education group A+ Schools, said she hopes the district would implement change in a way that keeps students from being moved multiple times through multiple reorganization plans.

DeJong's plan would bring much change to the North Side, which lost two elementary schools and a middle school in 2006.

Besides Schiller and its building, the new plan would close Manchester PreK-8 and Morrow PreK-5 and their buildings.

"I know the people in the neighborhood are moderately upset about it," Pete Bellisario, president of Brighton Heights Citizens Federation, said of the proposal for Morrow.

Under DeJong's plan, the North Side would become the home of a second alternative school, the Student Achievement Center, which would move to Oliver's building from Homewood.

The North Side already is home to Clayton Academy, an alternative school located in a former elementary school that was closed in 2006. Oliver's building also would become the home of McNaugher Education Center, a special-education school on the North Side.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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