12 are vying for five vacancies on the board of administrators of the Pittsburgh Public Faculties

Five out of nine seats on the Pittsburgh Public Schools board of directors are eligible for this election, and a dozen candidates are competing for it.

Tuesday’s primary comes as the district continues to grapple with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, scramble to improve equity among students, and face discouraging budget decisions after its budget deficit is temporarily fixed thanks to Covid-related federal aid has been.

Several challengers, as well as some of the four established companies, are calling for profound changes in the district, from how the community schools operate to expanding partnerships with local and nonprofit organizations.

District 1

In District 1, incumbent chairwoman Sylvia C. Wilson competes against Grace Higginbotham and Carlos Thomas.

Wilson was a PPS teacher for 26 years before joining the Pittsburgh Federation Teachers staff for 14 years. She has been a member of the school board since 2013 and was elected chairwoman of the board.

Wilson said her top priority in applying for a third term on board is getting schools back on a “normal schedule” after a year of inconsistency during the pandemic. She expects the district to leverage the hybrid schedule and continue to use technology that has become common over the past 14 months to expand student access to education over the long term.

But after the pandemic, Wilson said she would like to expand several programs within the district, including community schools, CTE programs, adult education, as well as English courses and preschools.

On the budget, Wilson said it could provide a thorough understanding of the fixed costs and obligations that the district must meet.

“It’s a lot bigger and more complicated than a lot of people think,” said Wilson. “What sets me apart is my knowledge of the school district …”

Wilson is cross-filed – she will run for both a Democrat and a Republican.

Thomas, one of Wilson’s challengers, is a chef and founder of Feed the Hood, a program that provides students with mentoring, culinary training, and hands-on experience to prepare them for employment in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Addressing food insecurity and resolving what is known as a “broken food system” are among its primary goals for the district. Fixing this system includes providing nutritional education, better access to food, and working with organizations dedicated to solving the problem.

His experience in the culinary trade also influenced his desire to strengthen the district’s connections with local organizations and businesses to help students find on-the-job training in the areas they are passionate about. His platform advocates stronger CTE programs as well as more funding for the PPS community schools.

“There’s this burning passion among children to do more for their education,” he said.

If he makes it into the school board, Thomas hopes to improve transparency on county spending, reevaluate county spending, and especially work towards a school police sale.

“If the school district is passing the money on whose problem is fixing its own problems, we will just be sitting in a spinning circle here,” he said.

For Higginbotham, top priorities also revolve around improving equity, the district budget, and repairing “broken relationships” within District 1.

Higginbotham worked as a teacher in Allegheny County for years before deciding to shift her career to consulting and focus on “cultural literacy” for educators and small businesses. She is on a list of candidates supported by the Black Women for Better Education group that campaigned last year to have the board renew Superintendent Anthony Hamlet’s contract.

When it comes to the district’s handling of the pandemic, as well as budget, Higginbotham sees room for improvement in terms of communication and transparency. If she wins the seat, Higginbotham hopes to set up a panel of PPS teachers to provide input to the board on curriculum and policy issues, and she hopes to address longstanding performance gaps issues.

“I think it was just a constant relapse of the students into reading, math and science, and if we look at the black students in the district it’s worse and it doesn’t get better,” she said. “We won’t see miracle changes. It might take some time … but we don’t see that. I did not see that. ”

District 9

In District 9, incumbent incumbent Veronica Edwards will face Democratic challengers Gene Walker and Delancey Walton.

Edwards is a retired county employee of 37 years and is running for a second term on the board. For them, the main priority will be to help the children learn again personally and build up everything that has been lost in the last 14 months.

“Academics are still number 1,” she said, but she also wants to address the social and emotional impact of the pandemic.

On the budget, Edwards said the additional ESSER funding will change a lot and, as the incumbent, she has a solid understanding of all of the factors at play. When asked what sets her apart from her challengers, Edwards said she had a unique and tangible knowledge of the district, having been a part of it almost consistently since she was a student.

“I actually think I’ve been in the school district my whole life,” she said.

Walker’s plans to focus on household accountability, work the district with other local leaders and organizations, and promote sustainability and diversity in a district with a history of high sales in client roles.

“We need to ensure that our schools – especially our most vulnerable schools – have stability at the top with their principals and that we aim to create, hire, retain and retain a diverse workforce,” he said.

Walker is also supported by black women for better education. His professional background includes working with nonprofits like the Pittsburgh Promise and Mission C – the latter providing financial support and education to families at risk of eviction, and Walker himself later became a licensed financial advisor. Walker hopes this experience will be helpful in evaluating the district budget.

“I think it starts with (the administration) being forced to put a balanced budget on the table. We just can’t keep burning money like we do without seeing results, ”he said. “We need to think about where are the areas where we are spending money that just don’t fit our priorities as a district.”

Walton, an 18-year-old student at Duquesne University, is the youngest person to apply for a seat on the board. A graduate of Montour High School at McKees Rocks, Walton hopes to incorporate a student’s perspective into the board’s decision-making process.

“My priorities would just focus on our students and their class time, and make sure they do well on their courses when we go back to full-time school,” said Walton.

Walton also reiterated other candidates’ concerns about the future of PPS community schools and balancing the budget with a focus on students.

“I am the experience our decision makers use to make decisions,” said Walton. “If I go into that, I will be able to gather recent experience of what schools should be like, how students work, how students learn, and what kind of cultural atmosphere students would like to be a part of.”

Teghan Simonton is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, tsimonton@triblive.com, or on Twitter.

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