Pittsburgh Public Schools administrators ask to extend contract for Clayton Academy

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Pittsburgh Public Schools administrators tonight asked the school board to renew the contract for a private company to operate Clayton Academy, but some school board members want the district to take over operation of the alternative school on the North Side.

Dara Ware Allen, assistant superintendent of student support services, asked the board to extend for another year the contract with Specialized Education Services Inc. The district pays SESI $2.8 million a year to serve up to 250 students in grades 6-12 at Clayton. She asked for a vote at the Feb. 26 meeting.

Clayton, which has 227 students, serves regular students who have patterns of disruptive behaviors or have committed assaults or weapons violations.

The district operates another alternative school, Student Achievement Center in Homewood, which serves 198 students who have severe truancy or absenteeism problems, are seeking credit recovery, are over-age for grade 8 or are special education students who have committed assaults or weapons violations.

Ms. Allen said SESI has a good record of improving students and helping students become able to return to their home schools.

Ms. Allen said the cost of the district operating both schools would be nearly the same as if SESI operated Clayton and the district operated Student Achievement Center.

She said the extension would enable the district to develop a comprehensive plan by next spring.

Board member Regina Holley, who chairs the education committee, noted that two years ago she said she wasn't going to vote for a renewal of the contract.

She said she is "not comfortable in having an outside agency take over the education of any of our children within the school district."

School superintendent Linda Lane said she thinks the ultimate goal should be taking over the program, but she doesn't think the district is ready yet.

"I think there are more pieces to this than just Clayton and alternative education," she said, noting efforts to improve the teaching and learning environment in schools across the district.

Ms. Lane said not all teachers are suited for alternative schools.

"You really have to want to work with this student population. ... These are some of our most vulnerable students. They obviously need people who are able to work with them," she said.

Board member Mark Brentley Sr., who wants the district to operate Clayton, said SAC teachers have been successful and could help the district put Clayton under its wing.

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

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