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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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11-09-07 Schenley backers loud, clear, in opposition

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2007 8:20 am    Post subject: 11-09-07 Schenley backers loud, clear, in opposition Reply with quote

Schenley backers loud, clear, in opposition to closing
Friday, November 09, 2007
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At the Schenley High School auditorium last night, Fred Quinn 16, a junior, urges district officials: "Don't move the school." (11/8/07)
Photo by J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

James Taylor Jr. speaks last night of his concerns about the proposed closing of Schenley High School. (11/8/07)
Photo by J. Monroe Butler II/Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Schenley High School supporters last night interrupted, shouted down and ridiculed a Pittsburgh Public Schools' executive as he tried to explain the district's plan to close the building and disperse its students to three other locations.

Derrick Lopez, chief of high school reform, told the crowd of about 125 that the district doesn't believe it can afford $64 million in renovations to the landmark Oakland building.

The crowd didn't want to hear it.

Supporters disputed his report about extensive asbestos problems, suggested the district sell the administration building to help raise money for a Schenley overhaul and likened Schenley's dismantling to a family breakup.

Speaker after speaker cited a bond among Schenley students that transcends racial, socioeconomic and academic planes, fueling the school's record of academic and athletic achievement.

"There is something intangible that we are desperately trying to communicate to you tonight," said Mount Washington resident Sharon Brady, whose daughter is a junior at Schenley.

Ms. Brady said Schenley should be replicated, not "destroyed." Other supporters said they would try to raise money -- by selling pizza and baked goods, if necessary -- to save it.

Mr. Lopez, who joined the district in August, said at the meeting's outset that he wouldn't be able to counter the passion of Schenley supporters. The speakers in Schenley's auditorium quickly proved him right.

"Stop lying to the public. There is no asbestos crisis in Schenley," said Jet Lafean, the first audience member to speak.

Mr. Lafean and others said asbestos is present in many other district buildings, including the administration building where Superintendent Mark Roosevelt has his office. They demanded the opportunity to review the district architects' reports on Schenley.

The triangle-shaped school occupies a prominent location in Oakland's university and hospital corridor, something supporters say is crucial to success of the school's international studies program. Some speakers said they feared the financially strapped district sees the Schenley building as a cash cow and wants to sell it as soon as possible, something the district has denied.

Mr. Lopez cut off the discussion after about 90 minutes, saying he had to get home to his family. That statement brought a final round of jeers.

Schenley has about 1,100 students in grades nine through 12. It has two magnet programs that accept students by race-based lottery but also serves as a "neighborhood school" that enrolls some students because they live nearby.

Because of asbestos and other problems, Mr. Roosevelt two years ago proposed closing Schenley's building and moving the school, intact, to the former Reizenstein Middle School building in Shadyside. School supporters objected, and Mr. Roosevelt put the idea on hold for more study.

After a stairwell ceiling collapse last summer and a grim assessment from architects seven weeks ago, Mr. Roosevelt proposed closing Schenley at the end of the school year.

He recommended transferring about 550 students in Schenley's international studies/International Baccalaureate magnet to a new IB school for grades six through 12 at the Reizenstein building.

About 175 students in Schenley's robotics technology magnet would be given a wing at Pittsburgh Peabody High School in East Liberty.

The rest of Schenley's students would go to a new university-affiliated school at the former Milliones Middle School building in the Hill District. That school also would take in middle-grade students from nearby elementary schools and accept students from other neighborhoods, space permitting.

Mr. Roosevelt's plans, announced last week, are part of a series of initiatives for improving district high schools.

Mr. Roosevelt did not attend last night's meeting, irking some audience members. He previously said the high performance of international studies/IB students has masked more modest performance of robotics and general-enrollment students, and vowed to give the latter groups more attention in their new schools.

But supporters last night said the district could find other ways to shore up Schenley's programs. If the building must be closed, they said, the school should be moved intact as Mr. Roosevelt suggested two years ago.

"Why do we have to tear it apart?" said Point Breeze parent Janet Catov.

Schenley supporters reactivated the Web site -- -- that they launched two years ago. Some alumni plan to hold a strategy session at 3 p.m. tomorrow in Room 326 of the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The school board still must vote on Schenley's fate. Mr. Roosevelt said he was unable in two years' time to find money to renovate Schenley but would keep an open mind to funding possibilities.

Joe Smydo can be reached at [email protected] or 412-263-1548.
First published on November 9, 2007 at 12:00 am
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