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District Students Benefit from Increased Professional Learning for Staff
Statement from Pittsburgh Public Schools in Response to Auditor General’s Report
PITTSBURGH August 28, 2019 – When Dr. Anthony Hamlet arrived at the Pittsburgh Public Schools three years ago, he inherited a District in dire need of new direction, one that prepared students to compete in a global environment in which, increasingly, PPS students were lagging behind.
After hearing from teachers, parents and stakeholders that the district was stuck, Dr. Hamlet ordered the most in-depth third-party analysis of the 108-year-old PPS system. One of the overarching recommendations addressed the lack of investment in professional development opportunities. In other words, educators were not given the tools to adapt based on best practices from similar urban school districts in other parts of the country.
Investing in professional development during his tenure - which amounts to .06% of the overall District General Fund expenditures - is part of the District’s strategic plan to address this deficit. By becoming less insular and more global, the District is investing in new strategies that result in measurable, meaningful improvements in student outcomes, both in the near and long term.
Based on a District inquiry, by comparison, in 2018, overall travel expenses in other urban school districts, include:
- $1.6 million in Nashville
- $924,000 in Philadelphia
- $6.1 million in Denver
- $4.3 million in Houston
- $1.3 million in Des Moines and Cincinnati, respectively
Through collaboration and the sharing of best practices with urban school districts facing the same challenges, such as racial achievement disparities, we gain insight into what makes top-performing systems work. From these engagement efforts, we increase our ability to drive change while gaining insight into strategies we are implementing to meet the holistic needs of students: community schools, restorative practices, K-2 non-violent suspension ban, positive behavior supports and interventions, multi-tiered systems of support, innovations in technology, and well-functioning offices of school transformation.
Though new, these efforts have already begun to yield palpable dividends:
- The percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced overall on the 2018 PSSA increased on all three exams.
- Reading proficiency for students overall on the PSSA has increased each year since 2016.
- Performance of African-American students also increased on all three PSSA exams.
- Graduate rates improved in 2018.
As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we seek opportunities to supplement travel utilizing grant funds whenever possible. For example, within the 2018 general fund budget, $362,705.10 or 0.06% was dedicated to travel expenses related to professional development - significantly less than that reserved for travel at urban school districts across the country for professional development, conferences, required re-certifications, and seminars.
Staff development is necessary if we are to avoid the pitfalls that have hindered past reforms from achieving our goals for students. These engagement efforts, selected based on their alignment to our work, allow teachers, principals, central office staff, and all role groups to learn from the mistakes and successes of others who have implemented new strategies to spur student achievement. By expanding the number and type of attendees we send to these programs, we magnify the impact our efforts have on our children.
As the leader of the second-largest school district in Pennsylvania, the Superintendent also serves as the top advocate and ambassador of Pittsburgh Public Schools locally and nationally – representing the District with various departments and agencies in an official capacity.
Creating a sea of change of improvement within a large urban school district is a significant undertaking, and not one that we take lightly. While we recognize that we cannot turn achievement around overnight, the investments we have made are already yielding evidence that we are well on our way.