The new superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools has been paying surprise visits to the various schools under her charge.
And, on occasion, superintendent Dr. Linda Lane is taken by surprise herself.
She spoke at a meeting of the Carrick Community Council on March 9 and told about one such school visit. "I just showed up that day."
She entered a fifth grade class and the teacher welcomed her by saying to the class, "Look, who is here!"
The students looked at Dr. Lane with curiosity. Finally, one little girl spoke up. "Is it your mother?"
"We looked at each other and laughed," Dr. Lane said.
During her first 100 days she had to deal with "some tough things, not the least of which was yesterday." That was when she and other educators learned the extent of the education cuts in the new governor's proposed budget. She intends to "head back" to Harrisburg and to look for support from legislators, worried the cuts could cause possible problems such as increases in college tuition. In turn, it could have an adverse effect on the Pittsburgh Promise program.
"I have seen some very hard things occur during my time in education. But it doesn't last forever. It'll get better and will resolve itself over time. We're in the middle of a recession with a slow recovery," she said.
Former Allegheny County Commissioner Mike Dawida, once a substitute teacher, asked why more teachers didn't live in the city.
"I have been in public education a long time…My dad gave me advice. He said you should pay taxes in the district you teach in," Dr. Lane said.
An audience member asked why Pittsburgh could still need more money since Bill Gates made a large donation. The answer was the money received through endowments and foundations can only be spent on certain things. "They say to us: you create a plan. This is what we are interested in…This is restricted money."
She was asked how "snow days" when students do not attend school were determined.
"It is not an exact science. I do the best I can. I try to be right," Dr. Lane responded. Adding she occasionally has misgivings about those decisions.
Her favorite day each year is graduation day. "I love it. Nothing is more fun for me. Students are excited and parents are over the moon happy."
She said she advises students to make career choices and plans before graduation. "The families should make the choices, not have the choices made for them. It is never too soon to have those conversations." Adding that students should develop skills prior to pursuing higher education, so they are not stuck in minimum wage jobs while continuing their schooling.
"I can't understand the governor's assault on education," said school board member Jean Fink, who spoke briefly. "I am very concerned about the future of public education in the schools. Someone on Facebook asked ‘Has this guy lost his mind? Does he care about the next generation?'"
Principals of local schools also gave brief reports on progress and activities.
Susan M. Barry, principal Pittsburgh Concord K-5 for six years, was excited about the school's new addition. "The faculty is phenomenal and this is a great place to live and work." She mentioned there are 24 new students since January.
Vincent Lewandowski Jr. said he was principal of Pittsburgh Roosevelt Pre-K-5 for eight years. "It was the fastest eight years of my life. All of us are so blessed by the staff and faculty we have. When they come to work here, they rarely want to leave."
He said he has found that the pre-K students are "light years" ahead of the students who just took kindergarten. He hoped that the pre-Ks survive the cuts.
The principals at Pittsburgh South Brook 6-8 and Pittsburgh Carrick High School also praised their schools and staffs. There will be six home rooms at the middle school next school year compared to five for this year. A ninth grade project at the high school involves donating gently used magazines to veterans.
Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, an independent advocacy agency for improving student achievement, passed out copies of its 2010 Report to the Community.
For each school the report listed the names of the principals, the number of teachers, number of students, attendance rates, student stability rates and number of student disciplinary actions.
Those interested can call 412-697-1298 for more information. The organization's facilitators will attend community meetings to make presentations on request.
The Carrick Food Bank is serving three times as many families as in previous years, necessitating a cutback in how much is being given out to each family. Distribution day is the third Saturday of each month at 9 a.m. at Zion Church on Madeline Street. Monetary donations to the food bank for Easter can be made by April 14 at Roosevelt or Concord Schools. Call 412-882-8955 for more information.
Phillips Park has been looking for volunteers, resident Terry Ann Michel said. "It is one of the busiest of the city parks." There have been discussions about adding deck hockey and expanded parking. Call the park recreation center at 412-885-7445 for more information.