Propel Northside four months into first school year


Just three months after Propel Northside’s charter was approved by Pittsburgh Public Schools, the 2011-2012 school year began, and the teachers and students at Propel hit the ground running in the Northside’s newest school.

Four months into Propel Northside’s first year, administrators and parents say that the school year is off to a smooth and exciting start. 

“It’s been an amazing start,” said Propel Northside Principal Ariane Watson. “It almost seems now like we’ve been doing this for more than 12 weeks.”

Propel Northside opened in August as the first Propel school in the City of Pittsburgh with just under 200 students in grades K-4. The school is temporarily housed in the former PPS Columbus School building and will expand to a K-5 next year.

“We want to extend these great resources [of the Northside] to our students and give them the opportunity to be a positive influence on the Northside,” said Watson.

Their current location in the Columbus School building is temporary as the school looks for a permanent location. Watson said it is unclear if the school will remain in the Columbus building for year two. The PPS school board recently approved the extension of their lease for the 2012-2013 school year. 

“Because this is our first school located within the city of Pittsburgh, we consider this opportunity a very special one,” said Angela Gaitaniella, the community relations specialist at Propel Northside. “This venue is working out quite well for us. Although it is quite large, the faculty has enjoyed the aspect of teaching small classes in large classrooms. The children also feel more relaxed.”

A committee is assigned to searching for a permanent location on the Northside, though Propel Executive Director Jeremy Resnick said the committee is not interested in Brightwood’s Horace Mann building and are are currently looking into both traditional and non-traditional venues.

Propel made a $500,000 bid on the Ridge Avenue School building this fall, but lost the bid to Light of Life Missions who offered more than twice as much for the empty PPS school building.

More important than the physical premises of Propel Northside, Principal Watson, who was the previously the co-principal at Propel Homestead, said that this year teachers and students are working to build the culture of their school to develop “an environment of high academic expectations.”

“Our vision is to cultivate a positive, warm school environment where all students fell like they are being supported and challenged to achieve their greatest potential,” said Watson.

Michele Margittai, a parent of a Propel Northside first-grader, said the school culture can be found in daily Propel rituals, like teachers shaking hands with the students in the morning. She said her son is excited to go to school in the mornings.

“The whole culture is just conducive to teaching,” she said. “It’s just been a fabulous experience so far.

She noted that the individual attention paid to individual students was beneficial to her son, who struggled in kindergarten, but is doing very well at Propel.

She said that over 30 parents attended the first school and community council meeting, and there were no complaints. 

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