School board OKs plan to close achievement gap

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Pittsburgh Public Schools board Tuesday unanimously approved an equity plan that is largely the same as when it was introduced in August.

The plan -- called "Equity: Getting to All" -- focuses on improving initiatives already under way, rather than introducing new strategies.

Board member Thomas Sumpter, who joined the board in 2005, said, "I've been looking for a plan such as this since I came on the board."

He said, "The biggest problem we have in the district is the disparity of education."

By the time the board voted, the plan already had been reviewed by the district's equity advisory panel, which was formed as a result of an agreement with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. A new agreement with the commission was accepted by the school board in September and the commission in October.

In an earlier interview, Jim Stewart, chairman of the district equity advisory panel, said, "I totally think it's a step forward. It's something I think is long overdue in terms of actually developing a focused and comprehensive approach to addressing the disparities in educational outcomes and other matters."

The latest version of the equity plan has two substantive changes, one dealing with non-discrimination in employment and the other on school stability.

It notes the board policy that "requires equal access to all categories of employment in this district, regardless of race, color, age, creed, religion, gender (including gender identity or expression), sexual orientation, ancestry, national origin or disability."

On school stability, the plan notes that moving from school to school can have a "negative effect on student growth and achievement."

When it comes to school closings and reconfigurations, the plan says the district is "committed to making these difficult decisions in a nondiscriminatory manner."

"The district will consider all options when reorganizing and/or closing schools to avoid inequitably and repeatedly affecting students from the lowest socioeconomic levels. The district will also work with students and families to promote school stability in individual cases when possible."

The equity advisory panel sought that addition.

In past school changes, Mr. Stewart said the African-American community has been "disproportionately impacted."

The plan, which builds on the district's Excellence for All emphasis, highlights five strategies: empowering effective teaching; enhancing curriculum relevance and fidelity; addressing culture; improving support to schools; and engaging families and community.

The district had been making slow progress in narrowing the racial achievement gap, but the gap widened in state test results for 2012.

education

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


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