suspensionssoltuions_photo
Courtesy Education Rights Network

Election 2017

What Pittsburgh school board candidates say about suspensions, armed officers and more

You can also meet the candidates at two forums next month.

suspensionssoltuions_photo
Courtesy Education Rights Network
Sarah Anne Hughes

On May 16, Democrats in Pittsburgh will be asked to vote for mayor, Allegheny County sheriff and judges to serve in various positions.

Depending on where they live, those voters will also cast a ballot for city and county council members.

And there’s one other race that A+ Schools hopes you’ll actually pay attention to this time: school board. Voters in Pittsburgh’s school board districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, we’re talking to you. (Find out if you live in one of those districts using this tool.)

A+ Schools, a Pittsburgh education nonprofit, launched a campaign last month urging people to “Vote School Board First!” The group points out that “Pittsburgh Public Schools’ budget is $594.4 million this year, larger than the city of Pittsburgh’s operating budget.”

Translation: Pay attention, taxpayers.

In this spirit, The Incline contacted each of the eight candidates and asked them to fill out a questionnaire. (We did not edit their answers.) Use the links below to jump to that candidate’s response. While not every candidate responded to our request, each of them did respond to A+ Schools’ questionnaire, which you can read here.

Want to hear more from the candidates? Great Public Schools Pittsburgh is hosting a forum May 3 and A+ Schools is hosting one May 8.

District 1

Sylvia C. Wilson, incumbent/running unopposed

Neighborhoods: Homewood, East Hills, North Point Breeze, parts of Point Breeze, Regent Square, Friendship, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, Friendship, Larimer, parts of East Liberty, parts of Shadyside

District 3

James Myers Jr.

Sala Udin

Neighborhoods: Garfield, Crawford-Roberts, Terrace Village, Middle Hill, Upper Hill District, Sugartop, parts of Stanton Heights, parts of Oakland, East Liberty, Bedford Dwellings, parts of Bloomfield

District 5

Terry Kennedy, incumbent

Ghadah Makoshi

Neighborhoods: South Side, Lincoln Place, Greenfield, South Oakland, Central Oakland, Hays, Summerset at Frick Park, Hazelwood, Swisshelm Park, parts of Squirrel Hill, Glen Hazel, New Homestead

District 7

Cynthia A. Falls, incumbent/running unopposed after candidate withdrew

Neighborhoods: Allentown, Arlington, Bon Air, Carrick, East Brookline, St. Clair, Knoxville, Mt. Oliver, Overbrook, South Side Flats, South Side Slopes

District 9

Veronica Edwards (did not respond to questionnaire)

Carolyn Klug, incumbent

Neighborhoods: Sheraden, Windgap, Brighton Heights, Perry Hilltop, Oakwood, Ridgemont, Crafton Heights, Chartiers City, parts of North Side, Westwood, Fairywood, Elliot, Esplen, Marshall-Shadeland, East Carnegie, West End, Summer Hill


Sylvia C. Wilson

Why do you want to continue to serve on the school board?

I have been involved with Pittsburgh Public Schools and educating children in many capacities throughout my career. Now, I serve in a different role and I feel that I am making an impact while working with the other board 8 members and with the superintendent to transform Pittsburgh schools.

Why should all Pittsburghers — even those without children — pay attention to the school board election?

It is the responsibility of everyone to educate children. Too often, school board elections are ignored. What is more important than educating our children?

What do you think the school board’s top priority should be?

Setting the policies and goals for the school district, to insure that all children are provided equitable opportunities regardless of their family’s economic status, where they reside, their sexual orientation, their race, their abilities. The development of community schools is a way to do this. The community schools policy has been approved and steps are underway to begin.

Do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed?

That is a question that has only been briefly discussed informally with the board. There has not been a formal request for consideration. Much misinformation has been spread in regard to this issue. If this does come before the board, much information would have to be considered before a decision could be reached.

Should Pittsburgh stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below?

No matter the age, when students exhibit disruptive behaviors, it is an indication of needs that have to be addressed. The education of other children and the insurance that others aren’t physically harmed must not be ignored. Out of school suspensions have been used. Better alternatives to out of school suspensions can include in school suspension, restorative practices, and peer mediation. School wide behavioral plans, if instituted correctly, have also been effective. The PPS Community School initiative should also provide additional assistance for students with specific individual needs.

What is the most pressing issue facing Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how can the board address it?

One goal is to insure that all Pittsburgh students have equitable opportunities to enhance individual successful educational programs. When the superintendent was hired, this was one of the board’s and community’s expectations for him.


James Myers Jr.

Website

Why do you want to serve/continue to serve on the school board?

To restore pride and resilience in our communities; cultivate a community where investing in education is our top priority; increase access to quality resources for our students, teachers, and communities; and create programs that are pipelines to careers, trades, and professions.

Why should all Pittsburghers — even those without children — pay attention to the school board election?

All Pittsburghs should pay attention to the school board election because the children are our future and we have to groom young minds to be scholars, professionals, and men and women of trades so they will grow up to be productive law abiding citizens in the Pittsburgh region.  We have to educate our youth and retain their talent for Pittsburgh to grow and connect to the wave of innovation that is taking place here with companies such as Google, Uber, Apple and Ford moving into Pittsburgh with the expansion of tech sector.  Education is so vital to the betterment of the Pittsburgh region and you need the school board to put policies in place to improve Pittsburgh Public Schools.

What do you think the school board’s top priority should be?

The school board’s top priority has to be developing policies that ensure students have a solid foundation of education at the primary level with literacy and math coaches in Kindergarten, First, and Second grade; to develop high standards and be equipped to meet those standards; also the curriculum has to reflect the culture of the community. In everyone of our schools, we need a parent resource center to engage families and communities about the continuous education process for our students. We have to make sure our students are college ready or able to take advantage of options in trades and professions where students can connect to with post secondary education and certification.

Do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed?

No, I do not believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed.

Should Pittsburgh stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below?

Yes, Pittsburgh should stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below.  Education at the primary level is extremely important to a student’s development with first learning to read and then reading to learn. Students have to be in school to enhance this process and we need other options in place to help them for example in school suspensions where they may be outside of the normal classroom setting but still in a position to receive an education.

What is the most pressing issue facing Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how can the board address it?

The achievement gap and education equity where you have students from different backgrounds in the same class but are not making the same strides academically.  We have to make sure all students are receiving a quality education and provide resources to do so.  The school board can address these issues with developing polices that continue to improve the education process in Pittsburgh Public Schools and ensure that is it the top priority of the board.


Sala Udin

Website

Why do you want to serve on the school board?

I have unique experiences that I think will help reduce the racial and socio-economic achievement gaps and help create a great school district in Pittsburgh.

Why should all Pittsburghers — even those without children — pay attention to the school board election?

“It takes a village to raise a child.” They are all our children. We are all their parents. An educated society benefits everyone in the society.

What do you think the school board’s top priority should be?

Creating a Great School District, where all children are performing at a level of academic excellence. No excuses – just excellence.

Do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed?

No.

Should Pittsburgh stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below?

Yes; but suspensions and expulsions should be replaces with restorative just alternatives.

What is the most pressing issue facing Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how can the board address it?

The district is losing students to charter, private and religious schools, as well as people moving out of the school district, seeking better educational alternatives. If the district does not become competitive, it will become irrelevant.


Terry Kennedy

Website

Why do you want to continue to serve on the school board?

I wish to continue the work I have started along with my colleagues in multiple areas, including but not limited to: improving achievement, improving educational opportunities, increasing equity across the district, decreasing achievement gaps, being fiscally responsible, and operating transparently.

Why should all Pittsburghers — even those without children — pay attention to the school board election?

A good school system attracts people to the district and increases property values. Our district’s budget is larger than the city’s budget, so taxpayers should be interested in how our district operates.

What do you think the school board’s top priority should be?

The top priority should be increasing achievement by all students while decreasing the achievement gap. We need to provide a culturally responsive curriculum, provide equitable resources, provide more staffing, and additionally, reduce high-stakes testing to support this priority.

Do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed?

The union’s formal request to the board is to modify board policy 335 by removing “The Board does not authorize its school police officers to carry firearms.” from the policy. I support investigating the pros and cons of the request in order to have all of the facts. Please note removing this line from the policy is not the same as saying all school police officers will be armed. Any decision to modify the policy to permit officers to carry firearms must be accompanied by detailed administrative regulations. The cost of implementing this change along with a funding source must also be understood before any recommendation to move forward can occur. Until all facts are known, no decision or recommendation can be made to the full board. I will also support the will of the constituents in my board district.

Should Pittsburgh stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below?

I agree there should be no suspensions for students in Grade 2 and below, or for any non-violent offense, regardless of the grade . I believe suspensions should occur only when all other avenues of discipline fail for students in grades 3 through 5 who commit violent offenses. No student in grade 5 or below may be expelled.

What is the most pressing issue facing Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how can the board address it?

The most pressing issue is making sure all of our students receive a high quality education regardless of the school they attend. One way to do this is to provide equitable resources, so that schools with more needs receive the additional resources. The teaching and learning environment must be considered from a student’s point of view to provide the best possible environment for all of our students.


Ghadah Makoshi

Website

Why do you want to serve on the school board?

I have an eight-year-old son who is medically fragile and needed a nurse when we admitted him to kindergarten three years ago. After several weeks of requesting a nurse, we were told one was not available, so I spent every day he was at school with him, feeding him, and volunteering at the school. As a result, we were forced to leave Minadeo to attend a school that did have a full-time nurse. After speaking with students and parents in the district, I found that my situation was not unique, and that students all over the district were suffering as a result of the austerity measures that forced cuts on our schools and eliminated full time nurses. I am running for school board, because no family should be pushed out of their neighborhood school because the school was unable to provide resources for the child to succeed and thrive, and because there needs to be a sense of urgency about education in our public schools and we cannot wait several more years to get it right. We need to make changes now.

Why should all Pittsburghers — even those without children — pay attention to the school board election?

There are two important reasons all residents should pay attention to the school board election: 1- The School Board determines whether property taxes should be raised and whether to give developers tax breaks (in the form of TIFs and LERTAs). And 2- We cannot invest in our city without investing in Prek-12 education. Our school districts are the foundation of our city and a vital part of its success. Electing School Board members who do not embrace the status quo, but ask questions and challenge the parts of the system that are failing our children is vital to the success of our schools, our students, and the city of Pittsburgh.

What do you think the school board’s top priority should be?

Closing the achievement gap, and improving education for students with disabilities.

Do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed?

Absolutely not. There is no evidence that police in schools increases student safety. However, when they are present, teachers and principals rely on them to handle routine disciplinary measures, which promotes anxiety and distrust among students. The Department of Justice found that, even when controlling for poverty level, schools with armed officers have nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct. In a report created by the Secret Service and US Department of Education, experts stated that schools would do better by addressing the root causes of violence: bullying, a lack of a respectful environment, and neglecting despair and depression in students (Creating, 2004).

Should Pittsburgh stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below?

There are effective ways to improve school climate and address behavioral issues without suspending students. Restorative Justice, if implemented correctly, is one way. Other ways involve more activity throughout the day, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Mindfulness meditation, creating respectful environments, and emphasizing emotional intelligence. We need to more social workers and counselors, and to address some causes of behavioral issues: large class sizes, bullying, lack of respectful environments, and neglecting anxiety and depression in students. We need safe, supportive environments where teachers and administrators pay attention to students’ social and emotional needs as well as their academic needs.

What is the most pressing issue facing Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how can the board address it?

The most pressing issue facing PPS is parents losing trust in the system and moving their children to schools outside of the district or to private, parochial, or charter schools. Parents need to have trust in the school district/school board that they have the best interests of the parents and students in mind. This does not happen by closing schools, leveling classes, cutting language classes or moving art to a cart, or giving development companies tax breaks at the expense of our schools and our students. What we need, is to commit to making the necessary changes in education, such as the implementation of community schools to make schools the center and the hub of their community. We need before and after school programs, more resources that meet our teachers and students’ needs, transportation that is safe and reliable, better assessment models, more activity throughout the day, smaller class sizes, full time nurses and librarians, and to bring back arts, music, and CTE programs to more, if not all, schools in the district.


Cynthia Falls

Why do you want to continue to serve on the school board?

I want to continue working to ensure the success of ALL our students by enforcing policies that promote positive relationships of all stakeholders.

Why should all Pittsburghers — even those without children — pay attention to the school board election?

All residents, in some form, pay taxes to the school district. Therefore, all residents should be concerned how their money is being spent.

What do you think the school board’s top priority should be?

School board’s top priority should be to ensure via policies that EVERY student is college and/or career ready.

Do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed?

This discussion has not been brought to the table. Input from all stakeholders should be considered.

Should Pittsburgh stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below?

Caution should be used when disciplining K-2 students. Grades 3 and up should be evaluated on a individual basis following procedures and policies that have been established.

What is the most pressing issue facing Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how can the board address it?

The most pressing issue facing PPS is working with Dr. Hamlet on the many positive initiatives he has implemented or is the process of implementing. The Board can discuss and, hopefully, support the efforts to monitor and improve ALL student achievement.


Carolyn Klug

Why do you want to continue to serve on the school board?

I would like to continue the work that is just getting started with our new administration. The focus of the district is now about meeting the needs of our children in order for them to be successful. I want to continue to foster this very important work.

Why should all Pittsburghers — even those without children — pay attention to the school board election?

The children of Pittsburgh are the future of this area. We need to make sure our children have the opportunity to become successful. It is my hope that these children will stay and contribute to Pittsburgh. People without children may one day become parents. It’s never too early to contribute to what is going on in our district. Being involved now may bring about the changes you want to see for your children.

What do you think the school board’s top priority should be?

We need to make sure that all children have access to what they need to become successful adults. We need to be equitable in sharing our resources across the district. CTE & AP selections should be offered so that all children can participate not just children who attend a magnet or neighborhood school that offers such programs.

Do you believe Pittsburgh Public Schools officers should be armed?

I do not think that this would be something that I could vote for. I am willing to listen to both sides of this debate, but would currently vote No.

Should Pittsburgh stop suspending and expelling students in grade 5 and below?

We are currently looking into how we can keep children in the classroom without disruption. Attendance is crucial to success. If we stop suspending, we must work with our children to help them stay in school. Our Restorative Justice Program and other initiatives are teaching our children how to work through situations without getting themselves in trouble.

What is the most pressing issue facing Pittsburgh Public Schools, and how can the board address it?

Student success is our most pressing issue. My answers to the previous questions all point to us helping our children to succeed. There are many ways to accomplish this and I believe we are headed in the right direction for our children.