Questions remain about plan to send Wilkinsburg students to Pittsburgh Westinghouse

She sat with two other students from the Wilkinsburg School District on Thursday night, anxiously awaiting details as administrators from Pittsburgh Public Schools and her district answered questions about a pending partnership between the two. About 100 people attended the informational session at Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood.

The sixth-grader at Kelly Elementary School may be among the first class of Wilkinsburg students to attend Westinghouse on a tuition basis under a proposal to close Wilkinsburg Middle/​High School at the end of this school year.

“Everything looks so nice and new,” she said of Westinghouse. “But I know all my friends at school… I don’t know what to do or say when I see kids here. I don’t know what to expect.”

She wasn’t alone.

For more than an hour, parents, students, teachers and community stakeholders pressed administrators of both districts for details of the plan, such as programs to help students make the transition, the extent of access Wilkinsburg students would have to Pittsburgh magnet programs, transportation and the additional resources needed to accommodate the influx of more than 200 new students at Westinghouse.

The administrators who answered their questions included Pittsburgh deputy superintendent Donna Micheaux, educational consultant Dan Matsook, the former Wilkinsburg acting superintendent, and Westinghouse principal LouAnn Zwieryznski.

Mica Young, 34, said safety was one of her biggest concerns for her three children currently enrolled at Wilkinsburg Middle/​High School.

“They still haven’t told us how they’re going to protect the kids against a perceived beef between the neighborhoods,” she said as she walked through Westinghouse’s halls on a student-led tour that was part of the meeting.

“It’s not about being difficult, it’s about being nervous, and I’m not sending my children into anything I feel uncomfortable with. We can’t pretend like this is something that doesn’t exist.”

The meeting came two days after Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents East End neighborhoods, raised concerns during a council meeting about the school plan.

Mr. Burgess said Tuesday that he had yet to hear specifics about guaranteed additional educational resources for Westinghouse with the addition of Wilkinsburg students, as both have struggled academically. Those specifics should be outlined in detail for students, parents and teachers before a final decision is made by either board in two weeks, not after, he said.

The Wilkinsburg school board will vote on the plan Oct. 27, and Pittsburgh will vote Oct. 28.

Mr. Burgess attended the meeting Thursday night at Westinghouse, sitting in the audience with the rest of the crowd, but made no comment during a question-and-answer session.

Wilkinsburg was the lowest-achieving school in Allegheny County in 2013-14 with a state School Performance Profile score of 34.6 out of a possible 107 points. Westinghouse fared slightly better with a score of 46.2.

Wilkinsburg Education Association president Mike Evans asked the administrators during the question-and-answer session whether diversity was considered in the decision to send Wilkinsburg students to Westinghouse as opposed to other Pittsburgh schools.

“This will be a completely segregated high school,” Mr. Evans said before Thursday’s meeting.

“To put those two groups of African-American and economically disadvantaged students together … it doesn’t even seem as if they’re making an attempt.”

About 95 percent of students at Westinghouse are black, and more than 85 percent are are economically disadvantaged, according to data reported to the state Department of Education for the 2013-14 school year.

At Wilkinsburg Middle/​High School, the numbers are similar, with black children making up 93 percent of the student population and more than 75 percent of them qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.

“Well, I don’t believe African-American students need to be with white students to get a great education, to be quite frank,” Ms. Zwieryznski said to cheers and applause in response to Mr. Evans’ question.

“To me, sometimes, I think people use diversity as code for needing more white students in a school, and that’s not always the case,” she said afterward.

“We can have diversity of ideas, backgrounds, thought and religion. We’ve seen successful models in other places throughout the country, so the question to me becomes a moment of introspection as to why isn’t it happening here?”

Westinghouse junior Shauntel Segars, 16, said that although she has heard mixed reactions from her classmates about the possibility of Wilkinsburg students attending their school, she thinks the plan is an “opportunity.”

“At first there may be problems, but I think it’ll just take time before everything’s good between all of us,” she said.

“As time goes on, it won’t even matter anymore. It’ll just be regular Westinghouse, and we won’t even really know who’s from where.”

Source: Clarece Polke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette