Devon Taliaferro seeks re-election to Pittsburgh School Board


Three Pittsburgh School Board members are not running for re-election this year—Pamela Harbin, Kevin Carter and Bill Gallagher.

But Devon Taliaferro is serious about keeping her seat on the board. She’s running for re-election.

“I’m just crazy enough to believe that our students deserve better,” Taliaferro, a Black woman, said during a Pittsburgh School Board Candidates Forum at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, March 30.

Ron Sofo, who has spent more than 30 years of experience as a school superintendent, school counselor, high school and middle school principal, is challenging Taliaferro for the District 2 seat. There are nine members that comprise the Pittsburgh School Board. District 2 represents Highland Park, Morningside, Lawrenceville, Strip District, Polish Hill, Troy Hill, Spring Garden, East Allegheny and parts of Spring Hill and Stanton Heights.

In 2019, Taliaferro won the District 2 seat over a number of candidates due to her community connections, passion for students and experience working with students in Pittsburgh Public Schools. She worked as a program coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh and ran mentoring programs for students at Brashear High School.

“I’ve seen experiences and interactions (at Brashear) that, if we were more intentional about creating educational spaces where students feel safe, honored and supported, I think it would reduce a lot of the need to suspend children,” Taliaferro told the New Pittsburgh Courier exclusively. “I had students on my caseload that were suspended all the time for simple things that could have been addressed if somebody would have just stepped out in the hallway and had a conversation with them and understood what the issues were. Sometimes I was that person in the building, although (technically) it wasn’t my job. We have to invest in the staff to be able to support our students. We still disproportionately suspend Black, brown and disabled students, and to me, that is a problem.”

Taliaferro said that when it comes to “community schools,” there should be “54,” instead of the nine that PPS classifies as community schools. Those schools offer programs which focus on academics, enrichment, health and social supports, youth and community development, and family engagement.

“Every building should have the resources they need for students to be successful,” Taliaferro said at the forum, which was sponsored by Great Schools Pittsburgh,  the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PINN), Casa San José and 412 Justice. She said it’s imperative PPS “works with our state legislators to get and obtain state and federal funding. It’s all hands on deck, we need the City of Pittsburgh, the county and state to step in to support our students’ needs.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools is facing declining enrollment, aging school buildings and, in many instances, a quantifiable disparity between Black and White student achievement. Charter schools are publicly-funded, tuition-free schools just like public schools, but they operate separately from the public school district in which they reside. Pittsburgh has its share of charter schools, and Taliaferro supports charter schools because they are funded publicly. But, “I think if we have well-resourced school buildings that have support systems, if we provide the quality-level education that our students need to thrive, then I think there is not a need to invest in or have additional charter schools,” Taliaferro said. “To me, we are trying to fund two systems of public education; the first one should be the priority.”

And when it comes to the declining enrollment, Taliaferro said much of it comes from the lack of affordable housing in Pittsburgh. She said she continuously pushes the city and private developers who ask for tax abatements from PPS for more affordable housing and increased career opportunities for residents.

Come May 16, the date of Pa.’s Primary Election, there’s only one contender for Districts 4, 6 and 8. Yael Silk is the candidate for District 4, replacing Harbin; Emma Yourd is running unopposed for District 6, replacing Gallagher; and Dwayne Barker is the lone candidate for District 8, replacing Carter. Both Carter and Barker are African American.

But District 2 is another story. While Taliaferro has support from Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, the Young Democrats of Allegheny County and the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, Sofo has support from Black Women For a Better Education and the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

Taliaferro told the Courier she’s helped to bridge the gap between the school board and the community by providing clear communication to parents, while having an open ear to their concerns.

“I have been invested in this work, not only in my professional career, but also in serving over the past four years (as board member) and have been able to establish the relationships and partnerships we need to support our students and their outcomes,” Taliaferro, 42, told the Courier exclusively. “As someone who is a strong public education advocate, we need leaders in the seat who are going to want to invest in whatever it will take to give students that public education experience that they deserve. Someone who wants to see public education thrive in this city and not want to tear it down.”





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