Steel Valley students offered scholarships following low test scores

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Parents of students at Steel Valley High School and Barrett Elementary School have received letters saying they can apply for state scholarship money to send their children to schools outside of the district because of low 2011 PSSA test scores at the two schools.

They were told they can apply for state Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit funds to go elsewhere because Barrett and the high school fell into the lowest 15 percent of achieving schools in the state in 2011.

PSSA results for 2012 will not be released until late September.

"We're not happy about this situation at all," Director Mike Terrick said during Tuesday night's school board meeting. "We're holding the superintendent's feet to the fire [to fix the problem]."

New Superintendent Ed Wehrer started work July 25.

"We're not happy to be on the list, and we're going to work as hard as we can to get our schools off that list," he said.

Mr. Wehrer said the situation is frustrating because the state Department of Education won't share the algorithm used to determine which schools in the state fall into the lowest 15 percent achievement ranking.

A letter on the district website at www.svsd.k12.pa.us explains the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit fund and how parents can apply. Some income restrictions apply, and it is not certain that all who apply will receive scholarship money.

Money in the fund is provided by businesses who donate for tax credits.

• The board Tuesday hired six educational computer lab tutors and two reading tutors to help students use software to improve literacy skills. The board also voted to give five full-time teachers $2,000 per year in stipends to answer technical questions about the software used.

The positions are funded by a federal $620,870 Keystones to Opportunity grant administered through the state Department of Education.

In April, when the Keystones grant was received, Ed Colebank, director of technology, said about 30 percent of the $620,870 awarded for the May 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 period would go to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to provide staff development training for all Steel Valley teachers in reading and academic reinforcement strategies.

He said $22,661 of the grant would go toward reading preparation and beginning vocabulary for children age birth to five in the district's preschools; $346,559 would go toward reading instruction in grades kindergarten through five, and $109,132 would go to middle school literacy instruction.

A total of $142,518 will go to high school instruction.

Mr. Colebank said the district would use part of the money to continue its license for Waterford reading software, which will continue to be used in grades kindergarten through two to improve literacy skills.

• Jill Fleming-Salopek, one of the teachers furloughed in 2011, was hired to be the new assistant high school principal. Jessica Andzelik and Carrie Cope were recalled to fill elementary teaching positions and Matthew Simpson was recalled to a secondary English teaching job.

Business Manager Mark Cherpak said the district was able to rehire because of a positive fund balance in 2011. That year, the district received $700,000 from an escrow fund all the builders in The Waterfront had paid into 10 years earlier, he said. Local municipalities also received payouts from the fund.

Mr. Cherpak said Wednesday morning that 23.5 of the 40.5 teachers remain on the furlough list. An additional three teachers formerly on the furlough list resigned and one retired, he said.

• Scott Meade was also hired to serve as assistant middle school principal, and day-to-day substitute teachers and a school nurse were hired.

education - neigh_south

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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