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On Halloween, Mark Roosevelt, Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, announced that he's attempting again to close Schenley High School and move its students out of Oakland into existing Middle School buildings in East Liberty and the Hill District
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08-01-07 Assure Schenley's future

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2007 7:04 am    Post subject: 08-01-07 Assure Schenley's future Reply with quote

Assure Schenley's future
Why can't the Pittsburgh school district commit to one of the city's great high schools?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
By Jill M. Weiss

I was walking my dog in Highland Park the other day and stopped to have a word with a handsome young man selling Italian ice at the entrance to the reflecting pool. I hadn't seen him before, and he said that it was his brother's business and that he was just filling in because his brother had to work elsewhere that day.

Since he looked young for such an enterprising entrepreneur, I asked how old he was. He said he was 14, and, being the nosy teacher that I am, I asked where he was going to go to high school. His response was, "Schenley or Peabody." I asked how he was going to decide and he said, "I'd like to go to Schenley, but I don't know if it is going to stay open. You know, the ceiling fell down."

My heart sank and my blood pressure rose and my words to him were, "You know, it's not going to close; I've been working too hard to keep it open!"

As he looked at me with stronger interest, I looked at him, an ambitious young African American who would fit so well into Schenley's achievement-oriented, integrated atmosphere. And he's hesitating about where to go to school because a patch of ceiling needs to be repaired?

I couldn't help thinking about the recent study by the University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems -- which showed how African Americans in our region trail other races in nearly every indicator of quality of life. And about how Schenley is an oasis for the black community, as well as for students of all colors, ethnicities and economic levels who choose to go there from all of the neighborhoods that make up the Pittsburgh Public School District. Schenley graduates more African-American students than any other city high school.

Unlike the South High School basketball team, which won the city championship in 1955, Schenley's basketball team, which won both this year's city and state championships, is not well integrated -- there is only one white player on the team -- but the school and its cheering section certainly are. The school district Web site lists its enrollment as approximately 67 percent African American, 24 percent Caucasian, 4 percent Asian, 3 percent multiracial and 2 percent Hispanic.

Other Schenley sports teams are more integrated, as much or more so than those at other city high schools. And while the classrooms are integrated, too, the number of African-American faces diminishes in Center for Advanced Studies sessions and in the International Baccalaureate program.

The school administration is trying to increase the number of students in the IB program by starting to offer it in the middle schools. It also is encouraging all students to participate by emphasizing that the IB program is not only for those labeled "gifted." To succeed in the program, a student needs only to learn to be organized and willing to take on the strenuous work load. The IB coordinator has produced a terrific PowerPoint presentation describing the program, but it has gotten little exposure.

Which leads me back to my conversation with the young entrepreneur, selling ice on a not-so-hot day.

We hear much about Schenley's ceiling, a 2-foot section that had been previously repaired, but we hear little about its exemplary programs. The media reminds us of the cost of renovation, which, in turn, can discourage interested students and their parents from taking advantage of those programs and the school's uniquely tolerant atmosphere. There's a reason for that: Schenley's fate has been in limbo since Superintendent Mark Roosevelt proposed to move it to another site in 2005.

The school's central location in Oakland, in the educational and cultural hub of the city, and its stately, historic building are all part of its amazing character. It would be even more noteworthy if the school district administration would support and recognize its greatness.

Schenley is not a perfect school; such a thing does not exist. But it elicits a sense of pride and involvement that I never had when I was growing up in suburban New Jersey. During the performances of its award-winning spring musical, which requires months of extracurricular work, faces of every color can be seen and heard singing and dancing their hearts out. It brings tears to my eyes, every year, every performance.

I want to see that boy who was selling Italian ice up there, too, if he wants to be, not having to worry that he would have joined this great school only to have it close.

First published at PG NOW on July 31, 2007 at 6:38 pm
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