Principal has a vision for challenging Westinghouse students
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As recently as February, Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood had only 21 of 79 seniors eligible to graduate.
By last Saturday's commencement ceremony, all but 10 had met the requirements to graduate, one around midnight the night before, said principal Shemea Crenshaw.
In an update on plans for the troubled school at a school board education committee meeting, Ms. Crenshaw -- who took the helm of the school in November after a chaotic start -- described how students, staff and community members are working to turn the school around.
She said some of the seniors who weren't eligible in February actually had completed courses that weren't properly recorded and some had to make up courses on Saturdays and on spring break. She said five others intend to finish in summer school, and five will need to go to school for an additional year.
When the seniors were in 11th grade, only 26 percent of them were proficient or advanced in reading and only 7 percent in math on state tests, she said.
"We knew we would have to do a lot for seniors to graduate," she said.
Westinghouse had been a high school until this school year, when it was converted into a 6-12 building with new offerings of single-gender classes. But the school wasn't ready. Discipline deteriorated.
Some students and teachers waited two weeks to get schedules. The schedules were then changed in early October when the new trimesters were replaced with the district's standard semesters and 80-minute periods were replaced with 44-minute periods.
And they were changed again on Nov. 28 after Ms. Crenshaw replaced the two co-principals and the single-gender classes were eliminated after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit.
Given that start, much of the year was spent trying to stabilize the school, including separating middle school students from high school students. At the beginning, some sixth graders were in the same classes as 12th graders.
Top math students were without a math class, so the school started a calculus class, Ms. Crenshaw said.
Ms. Crenshaw said that 56 percent of students were suspended for one to three days -- including two-thirds of male students -- between August 2011 and April 2012, but that dropped substantially in the second half of the year.
"You will drastically see a reduction next year," she said, noting safety nets will be in place to help students.
Now, after a planning process that included consultants and community stakeholders, Ms. Crenshaw is recommending a plan that extends existing career and technical education programs while also adding new ones.
She said she wants to refine the partnership, policy and curriculum for cosmetology, health careers and business administration.
Those three programs already are at Westinghouse, but Ms. Crenshaw said work would be done to ensure that the regular academic teachers are teaching skills important to career fields. She said work would also be done to ensure students earn career certificates.
For 2013-14, she recommends expanding culinary arts, an existing program in the building, and adding construction/trades and informational technology.
She also is planning for the school to offer several advanced placement courses in the fall.
To gauge how the plan is working, she will conduct surveys, including monthly student, staff climate and parent/community surveys.
As for scheduling, Ms. Crenshaw said all of the schedules have been made and checked for all of the students who are expected to go to Westinghouse this fall.
Due to low teacher seniority, Westinghouse is among the schools hit hard by expected teacher furloughs.
Teachers with higher seniority but displaced from other schools will be placed at Westinghouse.
The district is working to give Ms. Crenshaw a voice in which displaced teachers go to Westinghouse and is trying to see that teachers who are placed there want to be there.
In an interview, Ms. Crenshaw said she is predicting an "absolutely amazing" year at Westinghouse.
She said she told the audience at commencement, "I came because I was asked. I stayed because I fell in love with you."
First Published June 16, 2012 12:00 am