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Pittsburgh Votes New Priorities, Long Term Plan

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The Pittsburgh School Board has approved a wide range of measures designed to improve the quality of education in the city's schools.

Based on a year-long "needs assessment" initiated by Richard C. Wallace Jr., the new superintendent, and involving over 1,000 people at all levels of the school system and the Pittsburgh community, the "action plans" will focus on what the board has identified as the two most pressing needs of the city school system: improving student achievement in basic skills and establishing procedures for personnel evaluation.

In addition, the board voted to take action in other problem areas identified in the assessment, including maintaining student discipline, attracting and holding students, managing enrollment declines, and increasing the effectiveness of individual schools.

The board endorsed several specific plans and actions, including:

District-wide monitoring of student achievement in basic mathematics, writing, and reading will be introduced under Project map (Monitoring Achievement in Pittsburgh). All students in grades 1-9 and 12 will be tested annually.

prism (Pittsburgh Research-Based Instructional Supervisory Model), a program which will train about 3,200 teachers and supporting staff in the school district next year. Last week, under this program, the school system began training all of its 225 principals and supervisors in techniques aimed at improving their ability to supervise teachers' classroom instruction.

Schools Will Close

The closing of 18 schools over the next 10 years. (Since the early 1970's, enrollment in the system has dropped from over 75,000 to approximately 45,000.)

An evaluation of the district's 20 magnet schools and programs, which will be designed to attract new students and hold those already in the school system. A district-wide study of student failures and dropouts will also be conducted. And a recently closed high school will be used as a vocational school that will experiment with short-term (six weeks) courses and extensive work-release programs for former dropouts returning to school.

Pilot school-improvement projects in seven elementary schools. Teachers, administrators, and parents in each school will work with outside consultants to find ways of making the schools work effectively. Their findings will be used as a model for schools throughout the district.

Management Studies Planned

In addition, Mr. Wallace says the school system will use a $30,000 foundation grant to work with the graduate school of urban affairs at Carnegie-Mellon University to improve cost-effective management by finding ways of relating school expenditures to student achievement.

Mr. Wallace, who became superintendent last September after holding the same positon in Fitchburg, Mass., said that the purpose of the needs assessment--which combined extensive surveying and close study of existing data from the school system on such topics as attendance and test scores--was designed to focus attention on problems that stood a good chance of being solved.

"We took a risk in going public with our dirty laundry," he said, ''but we figured it was the best way to reach a consensus for change."

The assessment, said Mr. Wallace, was conducted in close cooperation with the Learning Research and Developement Center (lrdc), a National Institute of Education research laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Without the objective participation and expertise of the lrdc," says Mr. Wallace, who spent five years at a similar research facility at the University of Texas at Austin, "the assessment would probably not have worked."

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