The reason for the large turnout was the appearance of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt who addressed a large audience about the current state of the school system.
With authorization from the Pittsburgh school board, Mr. Roosevelt has made dramatic changes in the district since last year.
Mr. Roosevelt was able to get the school board to approve his plan for closing 22 under-performing schools this past June. This has saved the district $10.3 million.
Most board members have publicly said they like the course Mr. Roosevelt has set in his first year on the job. Long-time school board member Jean Fink is a big supporter of Mr. Roosevelt who joined the school system in August 2005.
Mrs. Fink was at the community council meeting. There were several principals and teachers from various local schools also in attendance, voicing their support of the superintendent. Also at the meeting were city council member Jim Motznik and District Judge Richard King.
Mr. Roosevelt, a Massachusetts native, has won praise locally for concentrating students in the district's better-performing schools. Mr. Roosevelt is also trying to get the curriculum revamped system-wide and wants the children spending a lot more time in the classroom.
For the first time in at least 50 years, all schools in the district were opened before Labor Day. Also, two weeks before Labor Day, eight accelerated learning academies were opened with special programs devised by the superintendent and his staff. He has also brought in a new curriculum for middle school and high school students and worked to obtain an extra $12.5 million in state funding.
Through his actions over the past year, Mr. Roosevelt has prevented the state from taking over of the district, which faces millions of dollars in deficits in 2007.
The superintendent commended every one at the Carrick meeting for dispelling the stereotype image of Pittsburghers being very resistant to change.
He said so-called progressive cities like Seattle and San Francisco tried to “only” close six or seven schools in their respective districts last year but could not do so because of public outcry against it.
“I heard Pittsburgh resists change at every level,” said Mr. Roosevelt, noting he has not seen much evidence of that image.
Roosevelt has focused on the middle-school crisis in the district in his first year. However, he said it is time to look at reforming the district through a “system-wide” approach.
“We have a window of opportunity to change the way we do business,” he said.
Mr. Roosevelt reiterated his goal to make the school day longer for students.
He said that when children in the Pittsburgh Public Schools graduate, they spend only half as much time in class as their 18-year-old counter-parts in China.
Mr. Roosevelt said that most U.S. urban public school districts have not done enough to challenge their students and hold them accountable.
“You need [academic work] to be rigorous and relevant for students,” Mr. Roosevelt said. “You need both or you will lose kids [who drop out].”
He said too many students are ill-prepared for making a living as adults. He noted that even those students not planning on attending college should be given a more broad-based education that prepares them for the real world when they grow up.
Mr. Roosevelt fielded questions for about an hour from parents who had a variety of issues to discuss. One of the questions was about a media report that claiming Carrick High School students are now permitted to transfer to Langley or Allderdice because CHS is an under-performing school.
Mr. Roosevelt said the report is not an “indictment against” Carrick for being a bad school.
Other issues brought up by parents involved school safety, the drop-out rate, the mixing of grade-levels in high school classes, teacher-to-pupil ratios and a variety of other topics, some of them personal in nature.
Mr. Roosevelt also reiterated his goal to increase teacher and principal accountability and their professional development which has been lagging in the district for many years.
Cindy Falls, a registered nurse who runs the health technology program at Carrick High, spoke in full support of the superintendent's goals. Ms. Falls believes holding students to a high standard is important.
From her experience of working with students at CHS for almost 14 years, she finds students will achieve more than what is believed possible when they are challenged by their teachers and their peers.
The Carrick High health-tech program that she teaches and administers, prepares students for medical field careers, ranging from technicians to nurses to doctors. Each year, Ms. Falls' health-tech program produces many honor-roll achieving students who win state and national competitions.
“Kids need to do more than just show up at school,” Ms. Falls said.
Mr. Roosevelt said the Chinese culture is always striving for academic excellence for its youth. For example, there are 150 million Chinese students taught English in their country's school system each year while only 80,000 American students are taught Chinese in the United States.
“Our schools are not worse than they were 20 years ago,” Mr. Roosevelt said. “But the world has changed, so we've got to be much better than we were 20 years ago. We have been doing things the same way for a long time and what we're doing is obviously not working. Kids who are not proficient in school face a harsh world as adults.”