At a Pittsburgh Public Schools board of directors public hearing on Monday, eight Northsiders presented mixed opinions on Propel Charter School’s application to open a new school in the area.
Propel Northside would begin as a K-4 school with 40 students in each grade, and grow to a K-8 school. The organization has not yet chosen a location for the school.
Propel, a not-for-profit, currently has six schools in Allegheny County, but none in Pittsburgh. Executive Director Jeremy Resnick said that more than 2,000 students are currently enrolled and another 2,300 students are on a waitlist. Because of the high demand Resnick said it was time to bring a Propel school into the city.
While some support Propel coming to the Northside, a few felt it would undermine the public schools already in the area, and others asked that the board not make a decision on Propel’s application until it heard from more Northsiders.
Resnick and Propel Superintendent Carol Wooten also submitted a petition with 340 Northsider signatures and letters of support from multiple Northside neighborhood groups who would like to see Propel come to the Northside.
Four Northsiders spoke in favor of Propel at the meeting, all citing the need for more options.
Three of the four in favor were Observatory Hill and Perry Hilltop residents who expressed hope that Propel would come to their neighborhood, since there are no longer any elementary or middle schools in the area.
“We’ve been left with not a lot of choices,” said Walt Nalducci, Observatory Hill, Inc. board member. “Every year we see more and more of our residents sending their kids outside the city.”
Two Northsiders from the Manchester Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, however, spoke against Propel coming into the city, and especially into the Manchester area, because they felt it would be a “knife in the back” of all the hard work Manchester parents and teachers do at the public school.
“How can you justify bringing another school in when we’re losing money?” said Manchester PTA Vice President Wallace Sapp.
Resnick said in a phone interview that Propel had not chosen a location for the Northside school yet, but that the organization would not put a school in Manchester because there are already two schools there: Manchester Elementary and the Manchester Academic Charter School.
“We are not trying to destroy anything positive on the Northside,” Resnick said.
Northside Leadership Conference Executive Director Mark Fatla said the Conference had not yet heard from all of its member organizations and could not come out in favor or against Propel. He asked the board to allow the Conference to amend its testimony after the Conference’s Dec. 15 board meeting.
Fatla added that the Conference has assisted Propel in its search for a location and that its education committee has been working closely with the school and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Wooten said that Propel schools have closed the achievement gap between low- and higher-income students, regardless of ethnicity, and that a majority of students are performing at grade level.
“Propel students are dramatically outperforming their peers at public schools in their districts,” Wooten said.
According to statistics listed on Propel’s website, www.propelschools.org, more than 70 percent of Propel students achieved proficient or advanced on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test, higher than 40 to 60 percent of students in the districts of Pittsburgh, Penn Hills, McKeesport, Sto-Rox and Woodland Hills.
An average of 62 percent of Pittsburgh Public Schools students in grades six to eight achieved proficient or advanced levels on the state test, according to 2010 statistics from the district’s website, www.pps.k12.pa.us.