We know Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) is full of hard-working, highly-competent staff, who, with the right supports, have what it takes to develop well-rounded graduates, ready to compete globally. Through our 2017-2022 Strategic Plan: Expect Great Things we are on a path to transform PPS and make a momentous change in our schools. Developed with input from 3,500 constituents, our plan outlines the steps needed to reach our long-term outcomes for students through four strategic themes which consider the development of our people:
Create a positive and supportive school culture
Develop and implement a rigorous, aligned instructional system
Provide appropriate instructional support for teachers and staff
Foster a culture of high performance for all employees.
Staff development is necessary if we are to avoid the pitfalls that have hindered past reforms from achieving our goals for students. A third-party analysis conducted by the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) included 33 findings and recommendations specifically related to professional development. We are committed to continuous improvement and providing supports for all employees through increased professional development opportunities that clarify and elevate expectation.
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 knowledge into strategies we are implementing to meet the holistic needs of students such as 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. Also, district staff is regularly requested to share the progress of our work and highlight best practices within PPS.
As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we seek opportunities to supplement travel utilizing grant funds awarded to the District whenever possible. Within the approved 2017 general fund budget, $378,234 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. Of the $305,898 spent on travel in the District from January to November in 2017, 49% was paid for utilizing supplemental grant funds where applicable and 51% was paid for from the general fund.
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. Our Board recognizes the benefits of these opportunities through its policy which allows, “professional leave for employees to travel on District business, and for professional development."
As the leader of the second-largest school district in Pennsylvania, I am the top advocate and ambassador of Pittsburgh Public Schools locally and nationally. I along with members of my Cabinet and the Board of School Directors represent the District with various departments and agencies in an official capacity. I have been appointed by Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to serve on state and national committees including, ESSA Leadership Learning Community, National Governor’s Association, and PDE Superintendents’ Academy. I am also called to join other organizations and committees on an ad-hoc basis such as the AASA -The School Superintendents Association.
In addition to learning from urban school counterparts, we have expanded opportunities, for job-embedded professional development through key measures, including:
Implementation of teacher-led Professional Learning Communities in every school,
Additional supports through English Language Arts and Math Academic Coaches,
Eight student ½ days for school-based professional development, and;
Training of principal supervisors (Assistant Superintendent) on both their instructional and coaching role.
We will continue to foster a culture of high performance for all employees through shared-accountability, high- expectations, and continuous growth. We have partnered with Learning Forward in the development of a comprehensive professional development plan to build central office, principal, and teacher capacity to implement college- and career-readiness standards. We are also working with the National Institute of School Leadership for school leader coaching to further the growth and development of principals and other school leaders. The development of any plan will align with the redefined expectations for professional development outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which calls for deeper, more meaningful professional development that is sustained over time.