Twelve candidates are vying for five board seats in the May 18 primary election that could reshape district leadership.
by TyLisa Johnson
The COVID-19 pandemic upended education for Pittsburgh youth in ways the community is still working to recognize.
But while some point to the COVID-19 pandemic as the primary culprit for the district’s challenges, education activists and residents say they’ve seen an educational crisis brewing in Pittsburgh Public Schools for some time.
With the impending May 18 primary, candidates running for school board see this moment as a chance to alchemize the educational system to ensure better outcomes for Pittsburgh youth, especially Black students, teachers and others involved in the district.
Twelve candidates will face off for five school board seats — districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 — a majority of the nine-seat board of Pittsburgh Public Schools [PPS]. Four board seats have incumbents hoping to keep their seats after a turbulent school year.
In District 7, a retired teacher leaving the board will be replaced by either an entrepreneur or a social worker. A longtime District 1 incumbent could be replaced by an entrepreneurial, activism-focused chef or a teacher-turned-education consultant with an eye toward equity. District 9 could be led by an incumbent who is a retired district employee, a social services provider with diverse career experiences or a recent high school graduate intent on bringing the student perspective to the board.
The district is still recovering from the first year of COVID learning, while facing a $39 million budget deficit and worsening gaps between Black and white students in metrics like standardized testing and suspension rates despite efforts by the district.
“It’s a lot that’s at stake,” said Lamont Frazier Jr., 33, who works in construction and other trades and is challenging incumbent Sala Udin for the District 3 seat. “We just can’t, can’t keep our school board at a standstill, like progress is at a standstill right now. …Can we really wait another four years?”
One thing the 10 candidates who spoke with PublicSource in separate interviews had in common: they each said systemic district change is overdue. Pittsburgh depends on the district and its leadership to provide 21,000 students with quality education and, in many cases, food and connections to social services.
A sign reading “Public schools are for everyone” is seen at a June 2020 protest against police presence in schools outside of the Pittsburgh Public Schools administration building in Oakland. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)
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