School & District Management

On the Road for Better Ideas

By Catherine Gewertz — October 17, 2006 1 min read
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Seven cities in 2½ weeks. Sound like a touring schedule for a rock band? Nope. Try a high school reform task force from Pittsburgh.

The group just wrapped up a tour of 24 high schools as part of its work to reconceptualize and rework secondary education in the Steel City.

Between mid-September and early October, subsets of the 23-person task force roamed the hallways of exemplary schools from Boston to Detroit to Dallas to get a firsthand look at strategies that emerged as promising in weeks of research beforehand.

“We wanted to look at national trends in reform models, and wanted to see cities where a variety of models were being used,” said Janis M. Ripper, a Pittsburgh high school principal who is on special assignment this year to lead the 31,000-student district’s high school improvement effort.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt formed the task force of business, education, and community leaders in July.

The group divided up the tour locations, visiting a range of programs and arrangements, including single-gender programs, “middle college” schools, schools with themed curricula, those with freshman or career academies, and those with strong Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs.

Ms. Ripper said she was impressed with certain traits they had in common.

“There was strong leadership in the building. There was a commitment of staff that was unbelievable. Students were really engaged in the learning,” she said.

Mr. Roosevelt will use the task force’s work as a basis for a high school reform strategy he hopes to present to the school board by April.

In the job only one year, Mr. Roosevelt has made secondary schools a top priority. A report he commissioned found that only 64 percent of the district’s students graduate. He wants to raise that proportion to 74 percent by 2009.

Four years ago, under another superintendent, three local philanthropies withdrew their support from the district, citing concerns about its management. (“Freeze on Grants Roils Pittsburgh District,” Aug. 7, 2002.)

This year’s work by the high school task force is being financed, in large part, by a $255,000 grant from a fund that local foundations created recently to support Mr. Roosevelt’s improvement plans.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 18, 2006 edition of Education Week

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