PPS proposes plan for a comprehensive Northside high school


Above: Perry’s Observatory Hill building is named as the location of the potential new Northside high school. (Photo/Kelsey Shea)

In the past four months, the Pittsburgh Public School district considered a plan to eliminate Oliver High School and another to close Perry Traditional Academy, both to the outcry of students and Northside community members. But on Tuesday, in an unexpected twist in the ongoing budget cutting drama, PPS announced that it may officially close not Perry or Oliver – but both.  

Rather than choosing between the two Northside high schools, on Nov. 7, PPS announced a modified district realignment plan that called for one new and comprehensive Northside high school in Perry’s Observatory Hill building.

The school board will vote on the realignment plan on Nov. 22. If passed, the plan will go into effect for the 2012-2013 school year.

“In addition to the size or physical condition of a facility, we must look at what’s going on inside of the facility with our students. While we have seen incremental progress at both schools, Pittsburgh Oliver and Pittsburgh Perry are among the District’s lowest performing high schools.  The closure of both schools gives us the opportunity to take what’s working well at both, and allow the combined student population to work together to create a quality new comprehensive 9-12 school culture,” said PPS Superintendent Linda Lane.

The fate of Perry’s magnet programs as well as Oliver’s successful programs is currently undecided, as PPS district spokeswoman, Ebony Pugh, said it is “too early” to determine any specifics.

“We’re reviewing to see what programs [to keep],” said Pugh, who said the overall objective is to create a quality high school for all Northsiders.

Staffing cuts and changes are also still up in the air, though the district is considering cutting as many as 300 teaching positions from the entire district for the 2012-2013 school year. 

If the plan passes the school board’s vote, Oliver’s California-Kirkbride building will house Pittsburgh McNaugher and the special education offices as well as the JTROC and CTE, which will remain in the Oliver building.

The original realignment plan, announced Aug. 4 as a way to reduce PPS’s $41.2 million deficit, proposed closing Oliver and sending its students to Perry. After several public hearings, the district announced on Oct. 20 it was considering closing Perry’s building instead and sending Northside students to Oliver.

The most recent amendment to the plan that calls for the closing of both schools came after the October 24 public hearing, where Oliver and Perry supporters filled PPS’s board room in Oakland to speak on the issue.

Many spoke in favor of keeping the schools separate or advocated for the use of a particular building. Others however believed that combining the schools was an opportunity to create a comprehensive Northside high school that would benefit the community.

“We have an opportunity to be innovative,” said Derek Long, a teacher at Oliver who came to speak as a member of the community to ask the board to focus on the task of merging the two schools at the Oct. 24 hearing. “This is an opportunity to draw students back.”

“The [Northside Leadership] Conference is pleased to see so much community input on this,” said Mark Fatla, executive director of the NLC, who noted that Northsiders were the majority of every public hearing. “This is a good sign for the Northside regardless of what happens.”

The next public hearing before the Nov. 22 vote will be on Monday Nov. 21 at Pittsburgh Public Schools administrative offices in Oakland. Click here for information about speaking.

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