Monthly Archives: January 2017

ALCOSAN project offers hands-on challenge and eligibility for college credit

Students from Penn Hills and South Fayette school districts will be collaborating with ALCOSAN in the coming weeks to make recommendations for reducing storm water runoff on their high school campuses. dsc_0800

To kick off the project, the teams met last week with Julia Spicher, a civil engineer from ALCOSAN, who gave them a presentation explaining why runoff from many sources in Allegheny County contributes to sewer line overflows, polluting waterways whenever ALCOSAN’s treatment plant receives more waste water than it can handle.

Organized by our Student Powered Solutions program, the ALCOSAN project is one of a number of community partnerships created to give students hands-on opportunities to apply their learning and improve their soft skills by working in teams.

As part of the ALCOSAN kickoff, students also learned a little about “green jobs” and found out how they can to earn a college credit for their work on the project through Community College of Allegheny County.

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Students bring fresh perspective to PANTHERx

PANTHERx Specialty Pharmacy General Manager Tim Davis was impressed enough with the work he saw from kids performing a project for his company that he wanted to follow up on their ideas.

He was particularly interested recommendations that PANTHERx switch to cellulose packaging for drug deliveries, equip high tech refrigerators provided to patients with battery backup and possibly use iPads to replace the electronic interface on the units.

The ideas underscored the value getting a “fresh perspective” from outside the company, Davis said.

As a specialty pharmacy delivering expensive and perishable prescriptions to patients with rare diseases, the company not only needs to use temperature-controlled packaging for prescriptions, it also needs regular communication with patients to ensure none of the medicines are compromised or wasted. It tasked students with finding ways to improve these capabilities.

The ideas came from a team of 8th graders in Blackhawk School District who worked over the past semester to research and provide recommendations. They took on the assignment through Student Powered Solutions, a Consortium program that creates partnerships between businesses and schools so that students can apply their learning to real world challenges and build the soft skills essential to working on teams.

Students said they learned lots that textbook learning doesn’t always teach. They said they sharpened their research skills, developed the ability to communicate well within a group and learned to create and deliver presentations.

As for what they liked best about working on an authentic business problem, one said “I liked working on something where your ideas might actually be used to help someone.”

Another said the project underscored “the value of face-to-face communication” in a world where so technology mediates so many exchanges.

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Scholarship qualifications and guidelines

Under a program made available from the Regional Chamber Alliance Foundation, the Consortium is pleased to announce scholarship opportunities to seniors graduating from nine area high schools as well as to students attending the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.

This program provides up to four $500 scholarships for seniors in the Mon-Yough area who plan to continue their education beyond high school. The deadline for applications is Friday, March 10. Qualifying high schools are: Clairton City, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, McKeesport Area, South Allegheny, Steel Valley, West Jefferson Hills, West Mifflin Area and Woodland Hills.

Applicants must complete the Scholarship Information Page and email the following information to the Consortium at

  • A copy of the SAR (Student Aid Report) page ONLY showing the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as proof of financial need
  • An academic high school transcript or a college transcript (if applicable), including SAT or ACT scores

Anyone needing additional information may call the Consortium at 412-678-9215


Introducing the finalists for our 2017 Champions of Learning Awards

You can and should make reservations now to attend our annual Champions of Learning Awards celebration on Saturday, April 1. Meanwhile, we’ve been introducing the finalists, working our way through one category a week in alphabetical order over the past six weeks.  Now it’s time for the final drum roll! Champions of Learning logoThis week we close our series with this year’s Special Tribute, which goes to Bill Isler.

Mr. Isler retired last year after nearly 30 years as head of The Fred Rogers Co. and its predecessor, Family Communications. In addition to serving since 1987 as President and Chief Executive Officer of the iconic children’s programming company, he’s been a career-long educator and advocate for children.  Mr. Isler joined Family Communications in 1984 and was the first Executive Director of The Fred Rogers Center, where he still serves on the advisory committee.

He began his career as an educator, teaching fourth and sixth grades at Annunciation Elementary School on Pittsburgh’s North Side and later became a pre-K programming director in the Mon Valley. Mr. Isler went to the Pennsylvania Department of Education in 1976, serving in a range of leadership posts including Senior Program Advisor for Early Childhood Education, Commissioner of Basic Education and as Executive Assistant to the Secretary of Education.

In addition to his leadership role at The Fred Rogers Company, Mr. Isler was a 15-year member of the board of Pittsburgh Public Schools, and served as president for five years.   During his tenure there, he earned a reputation for bringing a voice of reason during a time of fractious debates over school closings and for building consensus.

Finalists for volunteerism are: Kathy Forte, a parent and volunteer at Belle Vernon Area Middle School in Belle Vernon Area School District; Dennis Webber, Board President of the Greenville Area School District; and Julie Berry, a Certified Public Accountant who volunteers at Greensburg Salem High School in Greensburg Salem School District.

Forte jumped into the fray to head up a fundraiser when Belle Vernon merged two schools to form its current middle school and was looking for ways to fund more activities.  Her nomination said she not only devoted countless hours of time and energy to make the event successful, she also enlisted local police and others to make the event a community affair.

Webber’s nomination called him a trusted and long-serving leader whose vision has helped bring facilities upgrades and innovations such as the College-in-High School program to Greenville while also taking responsible approach to managing the district’s finances.

Berry’s nomination came because she shares her professional expertise with students, not only with lectures on accounting, but also by providing internships and job-shadowing experiences. Her nomination called her “a wonderful resource in our learning community and an inspiration to students.

Finalists for our award in Leadership–Randy Miller, Curriculum Director for Laurel Highlands School District; John Boylan, Burrell School District’s high school Principal; and Michael Perella, Principal of Pittsburgh Concord K-5.

Miller’s nomination praised him as a “hard-working and thoughtful leader…who is able to demonstrate on a regular basis the ability to put into action the visions and missions” of his district.

Boylan earned distinction as a leader with “a mindset that values learning not only from successes but also from mistakes.” His nomination praised his dedication and characterized him a relentless advocate for students.

Among other factors, a marked turn around in staff perceptions of the working environment and culture at Pittsburgh Concord contributed to Perrella’s nomination. In addition, he is credited with interventions, including a writer’s workshop, that improved student achievement.

Finalists in the category of Community Partners are The Isaiah Project, The Learning Lamp/Ignite Education Solutions and Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens.

The Isaiah Project earned its nomination improving academic achievement, graduation rates and economic security among at-risk youth in Pittsburgh’s so-called Hilltop neighborhoods. It does so through a combination of mentoring, vocational training, job placement and other supports.

The Learning Lamp and its sister organization, Ignite Education, work with families and youth, offering services ranging from day-care to after-school programs, and fills educational gaps for students of all ages and abilities through programs to provide credit recovery, behavioral support and drop-out prevention.

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens was nominated for its Fairchild Challenge, which offers 6th through 12th grade students a series of challenges throughout the year that help integrate science, technology and art.

Classroom Teaching finalists are: Robert Rodrigues, a high school history teacher in Chartiers Valley School District; Scott Andrews, a 6th grade teacher at Colfax Elementary School in South Allegheny School District; Lorraine Sciacca-Finch, who teaches family and consumer studies at Chartiers Area Middle School; and Lauren Rowe, an art teacher at West Mifflin High School in West Mifflin Area School District.

Rodrigues’ nomination credited him with bringing innovations to Chartiers Valley, including a program that enables students to earn college credits in high school; a Socratic Seminars program and a Civic Education program from Carnegie Mellon University. Both in the classroom and through activities he’s initiated outside it, Rodrigues doesn’t just teach history, his nomination said, commending him for going above and beyond classroom duties and “using his extensive knowledge base to show us how history shapes our lives today.”

Andrews’ nomination called him one Colfax students’ favorite teachers. It credited him with creating a sense of community in the classroom, setting high standards and making all kids in his classroom feel recognized and connected. Among other ways, Andrews always takes pains to know something personal about each and every one of his students, whether it’s the name of their dog or their favorite baseball team.

Sciacca-Finch won accolades for being as much of a resource to colleagues as she is to teachers and for going  the extra mile to bring innovations to her classroom with grants and lend her talents for costuming to school theater productions. Her nomination called her “an outstanding educational leader, a distinguished teacher and a champion of students.”

An art teacher, Rowe earned her nomination not just for the creativity she brings to the classroom, but also for the passion she brings to a program called Stand Together whose mission is to de-stigmatize mental illness and substance use disorders. She was praised as an educator and role model for being someone who is willing to “take on tough issues.”

In the category of Business Partnerships, the finalists are—Industrial Scientific Corp., Hilcorp Energy Co. and Blueroof Technologies.

Industrial Scientific garnered its nomination for collaborating with Montour School District to launch a “Women in STEM” program. Mentors at the company have “opened their doors, given of their time and shared their expertise” to give female students opportunities to explore engineering and other STEM careers by working on authentic projects.

The nomination for Hilcorp said the company has worked with the Lawrence County Career & Technical Center to prepare interested students for oil and gas industry jobs with experience using equipment and opportunities to visit drilling sites.

Blueroof’s nomination reflects a 15 year partnership that has brought students from McKeesport Area School District opportunities that combine hands-on STEM projects with community service.

Finalists in The Arts are Prime Stage Theater, an arts organization that works with schools to help build literacy as well as a love of literature and drama and Heidi Charlton, an art teacher in the Allegheny Valley School District and after-school instructor with Art Expression, Inc.

Charlton’s nomination credited her with a teaching style that “focuses on the total student,” making art instruction an opportunity for social and emotional development as well as learning artistic technique.

Among other reasons cited for Prime Stage’s nomination are its commitment to providing free learning opportunities to students in economically distressed communities and helping them “discover worlds and people who support them beyond their community” thorough its Discover Your Inner Hero program.





Model Cleaners CEO praises student-consulting work

When a team of Albert Gallatin School District students suggested that Model Cleaners hire a social media manager, company President John LaCarte called the idea “spot on.” He also praised a customer video they’d created for having an authentic feel, more like ones he’s seen on Facebook than expensive studio shoots from ad agencies.

Similarly, the CEO nodded approval when a Charleroi Area School District team recommended replacing the company’s smart phone app. In fact, LaCarte even asked if he could test one they’d created.

Model Cleaners President John LaCarte responds to student suggestions

Model Cleaners President John LaCarte responds to student suggestions

Both teams presented ideas to Model Cleaners last week to conclude projects they undertook as part of Student Powered Solutions (SPS), a Consortium program that pairs classrooms with companies willing to pose real business problems for them to solve. The projects give students a chance to apply learning and develop workplace skills. For companies, the projects offer a chance to help develop the region’s workforce and sometimes even yield usable solutions to business challenges.

As part of our partnership, Model Cleaners tasked students with developing ideas to market to younger customers who don’t use dry cleaning services as frequently as older ones. The company also asked if the students could think of any ways to make residential pick-ups more efficient than having van drivers stop at every regular customer’s house, only to sometimes find they had no laundry that day.

Taking on the first challenge, Albert Gallatin’s team laid out the benefits of using social media versus mainstream advertising channels. Charleroi’s team worked on improving pick-up and delivery efficiencies, showing LaCarte a smart phone app they thought would improve on the one his company offers, but finds few customers using. Additionally, they recommended a bar-codes that would enable drivers to create routes only for customers who needed pick-ups on any given day.

Classroom teachers who oversaw the students work attended the presentations along with a handful of school administrators. Following the presentations, Charleroi Superintendent Ed Zelich came away impressed. In his entire career, he said, “This is one day I won’t ever forget.”

Announcing finalists and a special partner for 2017 Champions of Learning Awards celebration

Selection Committees for the Consortium for Public Education’s annual Champions of Learning Awards have chosen 18 finalists in six categories for 2017 and named a candidate to receive a Special Tribute. (Names in all categories are available in this  complete roster.)

Winners in each of the categories will be announced at the Champions of Learning Awards Dinner on Saturday, April 1 at the Pittsburgh Marriot City Center. Also to be announced at the event are winners of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Be There Awards. champions-logo-copy (It’s not to early to make reservations. Go to Eventbrite to reserve tickets online or download our mail-in reservations form.)

“We’re pleased to have United Way as a partner at our Champions celebration this year,” said Patti Hoke, who coordinates the event. “Supporting youth is at the heart of both of our awards. ”

“Our Champions awards are designed to celebrate individuals, businesses and organizations that create or support outstanding learning experiences across western Pennsylvania,” she added.

This year’s nominations came from 24 school districts in seven counties as part of a selection process that began in September and drew 80 submissions.

United Way, which is accepting nominations through Thursday, January 12, confers Be There Awards on adults “who go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of youth across Allegheny County.”

The Champions Selection Committees choose finalists in categories including The Arts, Business Partnerships, Classroom Teaching, Community Partnerships, Leadership and Volunteerism. The judges also decided again this year to give special recognition to an individual whose contributions to learning in the region span a career. This year’s Special Tribute will go to William Isler, President of The Fred Rogers Company.


New hires bring expertise in business and education

With a major initiative unfolding to ensure students in our region receive the opportunities and experiences needed to explore careers and build soft skills essential in the workplace, the Consortium has added two new Program Directors, Sarah Brooks and Candice Williams.


Sarah Brooks


Candice Williams

Sarah brings a background that combines education, applied learning and workforce development. Candice brings experience in program development, change management, process improvement and team leadership from the business and education sectors. Both began their careers as classroom teachers.

Most recently Sarah served as Program Manager for two workforce development programs—the National Robotics League and Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ. Both are industry initiatives aimed at promoting manufacturing careers to students through regional and national combat robotics competitions. Prior to working with those programs, Sarah worked as a high school science teacher, first in Illinois and later in New York and Ohio, where she earned a Master of Teaching in earth science from Wright State University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in marine sciences from Eckerd College and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in tourism and recreation management from Niagara University.

Candice comes to us from PNC Financial Services Group, where she served as a Learning & Development Consultant and held a leadership role in an enterprise-wide change management initiative. Prior to joining PNC, she held several program management positions at Relay Graduate School of Education in New York City and at Citizen Schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. In these roles, she designed and managed nationally recognized programs, led data-driven process improvement and change management efforts and managed partnerships across various organizations. She began her career as a 5th grade classroom teacher in Charlotte, NC through Teach for America. Candice holds a Master of Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh.