Pittsburgh charter and city schools to meet

Superintendent wants to iron out differences

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Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane is trying to thaw the deep freeze in relations between the school district and charter schools.

Ms. Lane invited leaders of charter schools located in the district to meet with her today. She also has visited some of the charter schools.

"We're going to have to think through our charter school relationship here," Ms. Lane said.

She said it is "certainly not a happy, collaborative one."

Ms. Lane said, "The goal of charters in the first place was to have places where you could try some things out we could all learn from.

"Unless we talk to each other, we're not likely to learn from each other. And we don't talk to each other. So I want to open that door."

Ms. Lane noted that some of the schools she visited, including the Urban League of Pittsburgh Charter School, "felt like a family in there. I think that's something we certainly can learn."

Ms. Lane said that ultimately she would like to expand the cooperation effort to include parochial and other private schools.

Charter schools are public schools authorized by a school district but operated by their own board. The school district, which has oversight responsibilities, pays a fee set by the state for each resident who attends.

The growing payments have caused at least some of the tension. For 2013, the district has budgeted $52.7 million for charter schools, about $5.5 million more than the previous year.

As of the beginning of January, 3,447 city students were enrolled in 31 charter schools, including nine chartered in the city. The official fall K-12 enrollment figure for the district's own schools was 24,849.

Ron Sofo, CEO and principal of City Charter High School, Downtown, said he is hopeful about the meeting.

"We've already held part of our mission was to do research and development on the best practices, what works and what doesn't work," he said.

He said City High wants to "be able to share that with our fellow public school colleagues, charter and non-charter."

Last year, City High hosted a Research in Practice Conference highlighting its practices, including competency-based staff promotion, a workforce culture and a cultural literacy curriculum.

Linda Clautti, CEO of Urban Pathways Charter Schools, which has elementary and secondary charter schools Downtown, said, "I think it's great. I think it's about time somebody tries to reach out and communicate so we all can learn something from each other."

Vasilios Scoumis, CEO of Manchester Academic Charter School, said, "I think it's a great idea. This is hard work. ... I think we have to start thinking of Pittsburgh as this educational community, not it's our school vs. their school vs. their school."

Mr. Scoumis, who has been with Manchester from its beginning in 1998 and CEO for about 11 years, said that at the start the relationship between the school and the district "was very adversarial," making the annual reviews "very tense."

However, he said that in the past five to seven years, the annual review teams have established "much more open communication," citing review team members who have been helpful.

This doesn't necessarily mean the city school board is eager to approve more charter schools.

Last month, the board split over a request from Propel Schools to open a K-8 charter school in Hazelwood, resulting in an automatic appeal to the state Charter School Appeal Board.

On Wednesday, the school board is poised to vote on three other charter schools, all of which the staff has recommended denying.

They are the Computing Workshop Charter School in Squirrel Hill, Hill House Passport Academy Charter School in the Hill District and Mount Washington Community Academy Charter School.

Last week, the state Charter School Appeal Board again denied an appeal from another rejected city applicant, the Community Leadership Development Charter School, an Imagine school planned for Hazelwood.

The appeal board first denied the appeal in 2010, but the case was sent back to the appeal board from Commonwealth Court, which required the appeal board to provide more specifics on the deficiencies so the applicant could address them in an amended or a new application.

An appeal from Career Connections Charter High School in Lawrenceville is pending. The school opened in 1999, but the board voted against renewing its charter in August. It continues to operate pending the appeal to the state.

education - neigh_city

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


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