Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane said she could feel the skepticism when members of a new advisory group arrived for their first meeting Tuesday night, but she could tell they were happier two hours later.
Ms. Lane said that's what happens "when people think you're really serious about listening to them."
The meeting was part of a process called "Envisioning Educational Excellence: A Plan for All of Pittsburgh's Children," which is aimed at helping the district address its financial and academic challenges.
It is supported by $2.4 million in foundation money to pay for the services of two consulting companies, FSG and Bellwether, both based in Massachusetts.
The money comes from the Fund for Excellence, which is a consortium of local foundations, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
More than 50 people attended the meeting -- including parents, teachers, students, school leaders, retired school employees, community group representatives and other community members -- all by invitation. Two board members, Bill Isler and Thomas Sumpter, were among the group.
Group members will be surveyed, meet again in May and August and may serve on subcommittees.
"I think it's past due," said Steve DeFlitch, a Greenfield resident who has two children in city schools. "It's a great collaborative effort."
From group discussions, the participants gave ideas focusing on community and parental involvement, including more community partnerships to enhance learning, volunteering, mentorship, and recognizing and helping with children's social services needs.
"It's a communitywide problem, not just a Pittsburgh Public Schools problem," said Mary Frances Cooper, president and director of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
Some suggested looking at schools where the racial achievement gap has been closed or narrowed for ideas of how to do that in other schools.
Some had suggestions about teachers, including a lower teacher absentee rate in some schools, more professional development and showing students they care.
Pittsburgh Allderdice sophomore Adi Kadosh said that if a teacher shows caring "you're happier that day. You feel better about yourself."
Ms. Lane took questions, including one about school closings.
Unless the board decides otherwise, she said there will be no more school closings this fall, but added, "Are we probably going to need to close more schools? The answer is, yes we are. We have some schools that are really small."
The envisioning process is in "listening" mode through mid-March. More research will take place from then through May. A list of the first potential strategic options are expected to come out in June through November and receive more input.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: email@example.com or 412-263-1955.