City superintendent appoints 23 to task force on improving high schools

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Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt has appointed 23 people to a task force on high school improvement.

The group includes parents, civic leaders, teachers, union representatives, a retired high school principal and professors.

"I think this is an extraordinarily important mission," one member, Linda Serody, a Squirrel Hill resident whose two children attended city schools, said yesterday.

The committee will meet for six months under the direction of Janis Ripper, a school district principal on special assignment, and Lynn Spampinato, deputy superintendent for instruction, assessment and accountability.

It will travel to high-performing high schools across the country and develop what Mr. Roosevelt called an "action plan" for 11 city high schools. Corporate leaders, economists and workforce-development experts will offer insights on what the school district must do to prepare students for careers.

The committee's work will be supported by a $255,000 grant from the Fund for Excellence, created by a consortium of local foundations.

The Heinz Endowments, Grable Foundation and Pittsburgh Foundation each have one representative on the committee. The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers has two.

Other members are Alan Lesgold, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education; Indira Nair, vice provost of education at Carnegie Mellon University; and Michael Thorsen, retired principal of the highly regarded Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

A Rand Corp. study released this month showed that 35 percent of all Pittsburgh public high school students, including nearly half of all black male students, drop out of school without a diploma. At four of the schools, Mr. Roosevelt said, there is a troubling disparity in graduation rates for white and black students.

A second Rand study, released last fall, rated two high schools a "1," the lowest possible score, on a school performance index. Only Mr. Thorsen's school received a "4," the highest score given to district schools last year.

Ms. Serody said the committee will have an opportunity to design schools that meet not only the needs of individual students, but the needs of the community and economy. She said city high schools aren't meeting the needs of all students now, but believes the district is committed to changing that.

Another task force member, Dara Ware Allen, a 1990 graduate of Perry Traditional Academy on the North Side, said she received a good education and had teachers who looked out for her.

But she recalled that other students weren't as fortunate.

"I did see kind of what I see now" -- that students who weren't self-directed needed more support, said Ms. Ware Allen, executive director of YouthWorks Inc., an agency in the Strip District that offers employment, training and career-development opportunities to low-income youth.

The task force members are:

Dara Ware Allen, executive director, YouthWorks Inc.

Seppy Basili, senior vice president, Kaplan K12 Learning Services

Charles Blocksidge, vice president of organizational development/Frieda G. Shapira Center for Learning, Community College of Allegheny County

Susan Brownlee, executive director, The Grable Foundation

Kevin Cooper, city district judge

Joseph Dominic, director, education program, The Heinz Endowments

George Gensure, executive board member and staff member, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers

Dr. Cecilia Griffin Golden, CEO, YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh

Ruth Howze, city school parent representative

Rufus Jordan, executive board member and staff member, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers

Jeffrey Laurenson, Brashear High School teacher

Alan Lesgold, dean, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh

David Malone, president and CEO, Gateway Financial, and chairman of the PA Workforce Investment Board

Indira Nair, vice provost for education, Carnegie Mellon University

Ronald Painter, CEO, Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board

Jeanne Pearlman, senior program officer for education and the arts, The Pittsburgh Foundation

Gregory Peaslee, senior vice president, human resources, construction and property management, UPMC

Douglas Silinski, city school parent representative

Linda Serody, city school parent representative

Gregory Spencer, president and CEO, Randall Enterprises

Michael Thorsen, former principal of the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts

Doris Carson Williams, president, African-American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania

Yolanda Wilkins, Arlington teacher

Joe Smydo can be reached at or 412-263-1548.


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