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Students Not Fleeing Troubled Schools

Ohanian Comment: Don't miss this item: "While many parents received their first choice, no transfers were granted to Homewood Montessori, Sterrett Classical Academy, Rogers Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts or Frick International Studies Academy. These magnet programs were full."

James Bryant, of the Hill District, attended Milliones Middle School. His parents went there. And his son, Quamane, is an eighth-grader on the honor roll there.

So even though Quamane had a chance to transfer after Milliones was listed as a low-performing school, the family is sticking with Milliones.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools that don't meet state performance requirements for two consecutive years are labeled "school improvement.'' Districts must notify parents and offer them a choice to transfer their children to higher performing schools.

When the school was labeled, Bryant said, "It kind of scares you into thinking like the school is not doing its job and I need to hurry up and get my kid out of the school.''

But Bryant, who volunteers at the school, believes the teachers are caring and considers it a good school. He said that when Quamane, who likes to write poetry, started at Milliones, a teacher there who writes poetry herself took him under her wing.

In Western Pennsylvania, 39 schools in 14 districts fell into the school improvement category on the basis of test scores, attendance, graduation rate or one of those factors for a subgroup, such as special education, black or low-income students.

A large majority of students in "low-performing" schools are staying put.

In some cases, parents had no choice because the district has only one school for that grade level. Neighboring districts haven't volunteered to take in students, except for Midland and Western Beaver, who didn't get any takers.

In Sto-Rox, where the elementary school is on the school improvement list, Superintendent Anthony Skender said two or three parents asked for transfers to other buildings. But, he said, "I don't have any other buildings.''

In Pittsburgh Public Schools, 153 requests have been made for transfers from low-performing schools that serve more than 7,000 students. As of the most recent figures available, 91 had transferred, but moves are still taking place.

For those who did transfer, the designation has opened up a new opportunity.

"It felt like a new beginning,'' said Carolyn Hall, of Homewood, who moved two children --- Justice, 9, in third grade, and Jyleel, 5, in kindergarten --- from Belmar Elementary in Homewood to Colfax Elementary in Squirrel Hill about two weeks ago.

Her four older children went to Belmar. But she sought the transfers because she didn't think the school was addressing the academic needs of her daughter. Hall moved her son as well so the children can be together. Now they both take a school bus instead of walking to their neighborhood school.

"I'm not trying to knock down Belmar. When we left, I talked to all the people. I told them I appreciated what they were doing. But I have to move my kid on because we're not getting any results here,'' Hall said. "It was kind of tough. I know everybody in the school.''

Hall said both children were happy at Colfax, and she was impressed with the way Justice's teacher spoke with her to learn about her daughter's needs.

She had heard good reports about Colfax. "I knew they must be doing something up there. I wanted my kid to get a piece of it. I don't want to wait until she gets to middle school.''

In Pittsburgh, 21 elementary and middle schools were designated for school improvement. There are no high schools on the list.

Milliones, which is one of the largest schools on the list, also had one of the largest number of transfer requests, 35. Nineteen have transferred; some have changed their minds; and others are pending.

Milliones Principal Eunice Anderson said she didn't think the label was deserved and had talked to parents about what the school has to offer, such as computerized reading programs. "We're working very hard to turn around,'' she said.

Columbus Middle School also had 27 transfer requests; 11 have left.

Columbus Principal Todd Van Horn said he, like Anderson, encourages parents to stay, telling them the school has changed. Many of the requests were for sixth-graders who had little experience with the school.

"Once they're here a couple of days or maybe a week or so, a lot of them decided to stay,'' Van Horn said. "A lot of it had to do with some prior impressions that the parents had of the school. Or other siblings went here before the new administration. They didn't even give it a chance.''

While many parents received their first choice, no transfers were granted to Homewood Montessori, Sterrett Classical Academy, Rogers Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts or Frick International Studies Academy. These magnet programs were full.

More requested Schiller Classical Academy, the only middle school on the North Side not on the school improvement list, than it could accommodate. Only four were admitted.

Some parents wanted schools where they could receive transportation.

Richard Sternberg, principal of Grandview Elementary, said some of the transfer requests from Beltzhoover were withdrawn after parents learned Grandview was still within the district's 1.5-mile walking distance. Two instead chose Banksville, which is farther away and thus eligible for school transportation.

At Madison, Principal Carolyn Davis said she made a point of meeting with each new pupil, taking the pupil to his or her class and seeing that the pupil has a buddy to help him learn the school rules.

In other districts, the option of school transfers, even where available, has generated little interest.

In Penn Hills, Tricia Gennari, assistant superintendent, said only a handful of parents asked for transfers this year. Some were because Penn Hebron is on the state school improvement list.

Linda Clautti, chief administrative officer of Northside Urban Pathways Charter School, which is on the school improvement list, said one of its pupils left for another school, Reizenstein Middle.

— Eleanor Chute
Students not fleeing troubled schools
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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