Student voices to be heard in Pittsburgh superintendent search
March 5, 2016 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane’s contract expires June 30.
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After a community forum in late January in which students discussed the search for a new Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent, Lucy Pearsall-Finch figured there ought to be a way their voices also could be heard closer to the end of the process.
The sophomore at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12 took the idea to her principal, drew up a proposal, and one day last month, shaking, picked up the phone to call the consultant the school board hired to guide the selection of a new district leader.
“Often decision-makers believe that youth don’t care. Not only do we care, but also we are willing to put in the time and effort to contribute,” she wrote in a plan outlining the creation of a student committee to debate the merits of the applicants.
“What I propose is that the students have an input in the final selection of our next superintendent to ensure the applicant chosen is one we believe is best for our school district.”
The request from this persistent 15-year-old led to what the consulting firm called an “unprecedented approach” to include student voices in the board’s selection: A group of students will have the chance to ask a question of each of the five finalists hoping to replace outgoing schools chief Linda Lane.
Initially, Lucy hoped she might get to interview the finalists, but adjusted her plan when she learned the process was confidential. With the support of her principal, Wayne Walters, school board president Regina Holley and her mom, Roxane, she proceeded.
First she attached her proposal in an email to the Perkins Consulting Group but didn’t hear back. After she called that day and left a message, she followed up with another email and connected soon after with Brian Perkins, head of the firm.
Mr. Perkins said he had heard of Lucy’s interest in interviewing candidates. “I immediately knew that was not something that we could do, but I didn’t want to dismiss out of hand the initiative that was taken by this student.”
The firm and board agreed on the formation of a group composed of some of the students from the January forum. In mid- to late April, they will submit their question to the firm, which will forward it to the finalists. The same question will be posed to all five, and they will have a week to respond in writing.
“Obviously you can have far more questions, but this is a first attempt at something like this, so we want to do it carefully and thoughtfully,” Mr. Perkins said.
“It’s not exactly what I had in mind, but very similar,” Lucy said, “and it’s still a case of the student voice being heard and being implemented in the final process.”
She said she would like to see the district’s new leader focus on student equality, hiring more teachers of color across the school system and too-large class sizes, among other things.
When she learned Friday that her efforts had resulted in the creation of this student group, she became emotional.
“I basically cried,” she said. “I think it was the case that it was just something that I wanted to happen, and I actually made it happen. I want to be a leader, and my mom’s always pushing, [saying] this is what leaders do, they have to take initiative and go for it.”
The firm and the board began reviewing applications this week. Mr. Perkins characterized the response to the job posting as “overwhelming” but would not disclose the number of applicants. A decision is expected before May 18. Mrs. Lane’s contract expires June 30.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @molly_born.
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