Teachers in the Wilkinsburg School District have swallowed a bitter pill in the form of a new contract that could be a prescription for improvement.
The Wilkinsburg Education Association ratified the agreement with the district despite the fact that it means up to 18 teachers could lose their jobs. The contract permits merging the staffs of the district’s middle and high schools, which will allow more flexibility so the same teachers can provide instruction to students on both levels. In turn, that will make room for honors courses in four subjects and, in the future, some advanced placement courses.
Failure to provide enough challenging material for Wilkinsburg’s best students has been just one of the many problems that plague the financially strapped district. This step in the right direction is a good one, and the union and board members are to be commended for making a difficult choice.
In recent years, the leadership of the Wilkinsburg district has too often failed to make decisions that put students first. Despite test scores that are the worst in Allegheny County and among the worst in Pennsylvania, the district’s failed oversight meant unconscionably high rates of absenteeism while money was being wasted on an extravagant staff retreat and ineffective outside contractors.
A new school board majority that took over late last year has cancelled those contracts and fired the superintendent, all for the good. So, too, was finally reaching a new contract with its teachers, whose last pact expired in August 2011.
The new deal and the revamped curriculum that it provides is a worthy effort, but Wilkinsburg has a long way to go before all of its problems can be healed.