Marathon, Not a Sprint: The 2018 State of the District

2018 State of the District official graphic

2018 State of the District official graphic

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

It was a peculiar sight, no doubt. Most high school students are familiar with the pains associated with the security line—that daily routine of shuffling through the too-narrow door one at a time, unzipped book bags at the ready, eyeing up those in the immediate proximity to evaluate how likely they are to get mad if they’re cut in front of. But it was certainly odd to witness dozens of professionally clad PPS officials endure the same onerous process as they lumbered through CAPA’s single metal detector on the morning of September 18.

These individuals—ranging from teachers to school board representatives to foundation executives to members of the press to Dr. Hamlet himself—were gathered for the 2018 State of the District, an event in which stakeholders in Pittsburgh’s public education community would be updated on, as the name might suggest, the state of the district.

Specifically, this entailed information on students’ academic achievements as well as the district’s financial status. Dr. Hamlet boasted that, to date, the district has fulfilled 72 of the 137 recommendations made by the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) after its “in-depth third-party analysis” in 2016. The majority of these alterations have come in the form of curriculum and pedagogy tweaks, though some have involved major budgetary and infrastructural overhauls. According to the district, the CGCS’s suggested alterations can be grouped into five overarching categories: organizational structure and staffing; instructional programming and alignment; budget and business service; data, research, evaluation, and assessment; and disciplinary procedures and protocols.

Perhaps more substantively, Dr. Hamlet and others expounded on this new outlook through a number of seemingly positive data trends. PSSA and Keystone scores are up. Suspension rates, including both the number of students suspended and the number of repeat incidents, have been declining among almost all demographics in recent years. And more money is being allocated to the hiring of support staff, such as academic coaches and librarians, than ever before.

That being said, certain aspects of the system still merit concern. African American students continue to score disproportionately lower on standardized tests and be subject to disciplinary action far more frequently than their white counterparts, and overall PPS graduation rate, while over 10% higher than in 2015, remains close to 6% lower than that of Pennsylvania as a whole (86.6%). In these ways, it seems that the day’s theme—”It’s a marathon, not a sprint”—was certainly on point.

Perry teacher Jason Boll and security aide Donna Lamb of the Administration Building were recognized as instructional and non-instructional employees of the year, respectively. Selena Williams of CAPA sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Perry JROTC presented the colors. The Miller African Drummers, Brashear Nepali Dance Team, and Faison Choir also performed. Brashear’s Leon Blair served as Master of Ceremonies. Catering was provided by the CTE Culinary Arts program. CAPA harpists played during the reception. Members of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council and of the Youth Participatory Budget Council were ushers.