Sunday, September 27, 2009

Returning to Glory


The Rodney Dangerfield of Allegheny County: We have written more than 40 posts about our hometown of Clairton, PA. We have discussed the glory days and the prosperity that was once this community by the river. We’ve heard from hundreds of current and former residents, many of whom have been kind enough to share stories, photos, and tidbits about our town. But we have not only lived in the past. We’ve shared some of the tragedies and frustrations that have infected both Clairton and the surrounding communities in the Mon-Yough valley. Yet, for some reason Clairton, more than most of the other communities that have suffered similar consequences of the day the steel industry died, has seemed to take the most hits by neighbors and their own residents. We regularly read a Clairton area forum, for example and are surprised to hear so many negative comments. One strand of the forum has neighboring Jefferson Hills residents clamoring for their own zip code so they can disassociate from Clairton. Another bemoans the supposedly sub-standard school system.

The worm is turning: During the past 30 or so years those who left Clairton for school or work or war too often did not return. Those who remained saw their once-highly desirable steel mill jobs contract and disappear. Home values tumbled. The tax base shifted from the steel mills to local business and property taxes. But of course as businesses closed and property values shrank, services reached a nadir when the police force was disbanded and the city was patrolled by county police. The school district took its lumps as well and threatened to close or merge with another but neither option seemed viable. So the Clairton School District did what Clairton has done for the past one-hundred years; it wallowed in its self pity for a while then decided to change directions. That change is the subject of today’s blog.

Still an athletic power but with budget cuts: Clairton City School District has had to make budget cuts just like most schools across the nation. But instead of sitting idly by they formed the Clairton Bears Academic and Athletic Association. The inaugural fund raising golf outing at the Seven Springs Golf Course drew 108 participating golfers and raised some $5,000. The funds will help the athletes in all sports including the championship football team. And just as athletic teams are evaluated by their won-loss records, individual schools are evaluated on their students’ performance on standardized tests. Each year all Pennsylvania school students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 are given standardized tests. The testing is required by the No Child Left Behind Act and a passing grade denotes Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. For the second time Clairton students in the grades tested achieved AYP. The high school was listed as Making Progress and the elementary school is in the Warning category. The superintendent has implemented a Reorganization Plan to continue working toward AYP in all levels.

Reorganization – back to the future: An old adage is, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Perhaps there is some truth to that adage with Clairton City School District returning to a structure that was in place when Clairton schools excelled. The Board recently approved a realignment that would create an elementary school (K-6) and a Middle/high school for grades 7-12. The elementary school children will be heterogeneously grouped, meaning children will spend the entire day with the same teacher and with classmates of all abilities learning together. That is the preferred format of many educators who believe that homogenous grouping (grouping children by academic ability level) can lead to elitism in the top groups and student warehousing in the lower groups. Middle school students will change classes and work with teachers who have expertise in subject areas, much like high school students. One result will be smaller class sizes allowing for more individual attention. The format is the very similar to the one followed during the glory days of Clairton schools in the 1950s.

Wait! There’s more: Many pundits and educators who have bemoaned the slide in academic achievement in public schools have cited student appearance as a factor. This dilemma arises from the constitutional right of students to freedom of expression in speech and wearing apparel, as opposed to a school dress code. In keeping with the school’s obligation to provide a safe, healthy environment, the Clairton Education Center has adopted a dress code that complies with the Public School Code. Among the banned clothing are hoods, hats or other headgear, clothing that does not cover the midriff, outdoor jackets and coats, sunglasses, wallet chains, gang-related clothing, or jeans. Pants must be solid colored, light or dark blue, white or beige/brown fitted or belted at the waist, and no sweat pants. Skirts or jumpers must be the same colors as pants, no shorter than one inch above the knee and no slits more than one inch above the knee. Ditto for shirts, tops and sweaters, and they must cover the complete shoulder area. No t-shirts. Footwear must be fastened or laced and may not include flip-flops, open toed shoes, or “heelies.” Dress code is to be in effect during regular school hours as well as during athletic and school-sponsored travel.

Two crucial components: In addition to having students ready to learn, there are two crucial components to successful education; parent involvement and continued teacher development. Clairton addressed the teacher development component with an in-service this summer that included education techniques, classroom conduct, classroom management, and a host of other topics. Communication with parents is being addressed with several techniques including letters to parents, a web page, and a newsletter that is sent to every Clairton resident. Clairton deserves an A for efforts to get the School District on the track to effectively teach its students. Knowledge is power.

A little blogging music Maestro... From the Beatles; “With a Little Help from my Friends.”

Dr. Forgot

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great article and very insightful. I hope all the changes help in educating the younger generation of CLIARTONIANS. I look forward to seeing if it works and I also agree that it deserves and A for effort.