Monthly Archives: April 2018

Expert challenges educators to rethink goals for classroom learning 

Nationally known educator and author Jay McTighe told southwestern Pennsylvania educators and business representatives in April that schools need to clarify their missions and better align curricula and assessment with what students need to “be able to do.”

McTighe was the keynote speaker at a conference the Consortium organized to help businesses and schools explore partnership ideas. His talk focused on the need for classroom learning to equip kids with the skills and knowledge they’ll eventually need in the workplace and in their daily lives. Often, teaching instead focuses more on “covering content,” much of which can be readily found online and some of which students may never need. As a result, testing also misses the mark, he said. It tends to focus on regurgitation of facts rather than competencies.

McTighe argued that the focus of education should be on “long-term transfer skills” which he defines as competencies students will need to apply outside the classroom in entirely new situations, whether to fulfill job requirements, serve communities, function as citizens or engage in activities of daily life. Similarly, assessment should be performance based, requiring students to demonstrate these competencies, he said. Learning of these skills should begin in the early grades and continue through graduation, with the applications taking on increasing levels of difficulty until students have reached the “long term transfer goals” to which curricula should be tied, McTighe said.

As an example, McTighe said that history should help students understand developments that can bring perspective on current events. In math, he noted, it’s not enough to be able to solve equations on exams—students must be able to create equations to solve real world problems involving math. Similarly, they need to be able to write in multiple genres to achieve multiple purposes for different audiences. For example, students should master expository writing so that they’re able to explain something or put forth an argument.

Nor are academic and technical competencies all students need to prepare for their futures. Pointing to a recent survey, McTighe said soft skills—like leadership, team work and communications—rank highest among those employers are seeking as they recruit.

His ideas resonated with educators and employers alike and set the tone for discussions about possible partnerships.

Without exposure to businesses and organizations outside of the classroom, both students and educators are at a disadvantage, said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak.

Teachers can’t adequately convey information about careers and the workplace without exposure to real world work settings, she said. For students, workplace exposure can be motivating–it often helps answer the question “Why do I need to learn this,” Babyak added.

Greensburg Salem School District’s Secondary Education Director Ken Bissell likened educators and students to the prisoners shackled in Plato’s cave. Constrained by their lack of knowledge in the allegory, the prisoners see only shadows on a wall, not the realities that create the shadows. Similarly constrained, teachers and students currently get only second-hand understandings of activities, expectations and challenges in the workplace, Bissell said. Partnerships between businesses and schools would be change that, he added.

Babyak challenged businesses and schools to move toward partnerships that are impactful, sustainable, scalable and regional. That’s not to say smaller partnerships can’t be beneficial. There’s a risk, however, of working in ways that are “one off” and too short-lived to have impact, she concluded.

Following are a few scenes from the conference:








TFIM Conference offers career insights from 16 different employers

For Jayda, a Brownsville Area High School student planning a college minor in film, visiting Steeltown Entertainment was eye-opening. She said she found there was a lot more to making a movie than meets than meets the eye and a lot more to using a video camera than she thought. “It’s not just turning it on and filming,” she said.

Her classmate Andrew, who wants to major in communications, said the entire process behind the scenes involves many more disciplines and much more collaboration than he imagined. “Learning all the ins-and-outs of the movie industry was really interesting,” he said, adding that the tight-knit relationships it creates makes is part of what makes communications in general attractive to him.

Like both of them, the 300+ young people attending the annual Student Leadership Conference for the Future Is Mine (TFIM), found visits to workplaces hosted by 16 different employers among the high points of the event. Along with Steeltown, the 16 hosts included: Allegheny General Hospital; ALCOSAN; Allegheny County; Carnegie Museum of Art; Dollar Bank; iHeartMedia; Google; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; Heinz History Center; Jefferson Regional Medical Center; Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Schell Games; UPMC; Urban Design Associates; United Way of Southwestern PA; and Waterways Association of Pittsburgh with Gateway Clipper Fleet. 

This year’s Conference theme was “Putting the Pieces Together.” Aside from insights about specific careers, many students came away with impressions about industries or work in general that they said would help guide them after graduation.

For example, Blake, who visited the Carnegie Museum of Art said she knew from listening to professionals there that “it takes a lot of grit to be successful” in the field. Her teammate Jema said she was heartened to find that careers in the arts aren’t restricted to artists. “Almost anybody can find a career in the arts,” she said flush with the realization that arts organizations employ educators, accountants, lawyers and other professionals.

Workplace site visits always kick off the 2-day TFIM Conference. Following them, the April event continues the first day with a visit to a cultural venue and a college fair. This year, students went to the Heinz Regional History Center. On hand with displays and admissions reps ready to answer questions were Community College of Allegheny County; Indiana University of Pennsylvania; LaRoche College; Penn State Greater Allegheny; Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics; Pitt Greensburg; Pittsburgh Technical College and Robert Morris University.

Students later had dinner and a dance at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center where they spent the night. After breakfast the following morning, they attended more than a dozen career-related workshops. Typically, these breakout sessions are interactive and this year’s were no exception. One of the first sessions, for example, found students in an “escape room” where exit—and the hypothetical prize of a Google job—depended on performing a battery of tasks and solving a series of employment related puzzles.

Other workshops revolved around topics ranging from diversity and fidelity to values, to writing resumes, conducting business phone conversations, translating text messages into office-appropriate emails, organizing events and dressing for success.

Between workshops, students and their advisors also had the opportunity to go on a “gallery walk” featuring exhibits about projects that TFIM teams completed during the school year.

TFIM requires team projects because they help students build “soft skills” that are critical to future success—from organization and planning to communications and collaboration.

In Southmoreland High School’s display, kids reflected on what they’d learned from their TFIM experience. In an observation that was representative of others, one student said, “Being part of TFIM has made me learn to work with and help others. It has greatly helped me with management and organizational skills as well as simply making new friends.”

Neither TFIM nor the Conference would be possible without the generous support of corporate sponsors. Among them this year were: American Eagle Outfitters Foundation; Dollar Bank; Duquesne Light; Highmark; HM Insurance Group; Huntington National Bank; NextTier; Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation; Range Resources; Scottdale Bank and UPMC

Following are a few snapshots from the Conference. For more, visit our Facebook page at








Alliance teams offer snapshots of their community partnerships

Teams participating in our Future Ready Alliance gathered in April to discuss partnerships aimed at helping students explore and prepare for post-secondary education and careers. Their meeting also provided opportunities for interested schools and districts to meet with representatives of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory to assess how well their curricula are aligned with job requirements in two of the region’s key industries—healthcare and energy. 

Three teams showcased partnerships from the past year—Greensburg Salem, South Allegheny and Woodland Hills school districts.

At Greensburg Salem, one partnership involves a local machine shop. The company has created a small apprenticeship program for district students and worked with a physics class to help kids put abstract principles into practice. Secondary Education Coordinator Ken Bissell told attendees at the Alliance meeting the district also has continued bringing business representatives into its schools on a regular basis to discuss careers and has worked with the City of Greensburg’s administrator on projects to give students voice in their community and put their ideas to work solving problems.

At Woodland Hills, representatives from UPMC East and accounting firm Schneider Downs have taken on the role of sponsors, sending volunteers into 3rd and 4th grade classrooms to work with students. The district also is working with the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Restorative Justice to offer programs on conflict resolution and with Pitt’s Center for Urban Education, said Lauren Weisser, an Assistant Principal in the district.

Although educators often seem somewhat daunted at the prospect of forming community and business partnerships, “one thing I’ve noticed is the amazing resources that exist in Pittsburgh if you just get the word out,” she said, noting that some of the partners now supporting Woodland Hills “came to us.”

Partnerships also blossomed at South Allegheny after the district put together a list of the top 100 companies in Westmoreland County and organized a “Classrooms to Careers Day” for an in-service day earlier this year. The goal was to “help teachers understand what they’re teaching in the context of the employment world,” said acting Superintendent Alyssa King.

Alliance teams will reconvene in June to report out on projects they’ve taken on during the past year to ensure that students K-12 are getting age-appropriate opportunities and experiences needed to become “future ready.”






And the winners are…

Winners in five categories took center stage on Saturday, April 7, 2018 when the Consortium for Public Education hosted its annual Champions of Learning Awards

celebration and presented a Special Tribute to Sarah Tambucci, Ph.D, recently retired Director of the Arts Education Collaborative.

Don Marinelli, Director of Innovation at 535 Media/Inven Global, emceed the event at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center. 2018 Champions & Be There Winners

“We had an outstanding group of finalists,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak. “Every year, I am so impressed at the way community organizations, businesses, educators and volunteers work together to create such rich and varied learning experiences for kids in our region.”

Sharing in the celebration, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania presented its “Be There” awards in three categories for individuals who go above and beyond to support youth in Allegheny County.

The Consortium presented awards in the Arts; Business Partnerships; Classroom Teaching; Community Outreach; and Leadership. Additionally, a special tribute to Dr. Tambucci recognized her accomplishments over a 50-year career as an educator with a passion for the arts. United Way presented awards for School Staff, Providers and Volunteers. Finalists and winners in all categories are listed here. See photo below.

A gala Saturday night brought our Champions of Learning Awards and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Be There Awards to a close for 2018, with Champions named in five categories and Be There winners in thre. From left, the winners or those accepting on their behalf are: Michele de la Reza, founder of Attack Theatre, which won the Champions award for the Arts; Dennis Jones, who accepted the Champions award for Community Outreach on behalf of Youth Enrichment Services; Corina Bonsall, an instructor at Steel Center for Career and Technical Education who won the Champions award for Teaching; Michael Gupp, a Sto-Rox School District teacher who took the Be There award in the School Staff category; Janet Toth (back row) one of three individuals appearing on behalf of DMI Companies, which won the Champions award for Business Partnerships; Katie Hager (back) also with DMI; Jeimy Ibarra (foreground) who won the Be There award for Providers; Neil Williams (foreground), a Be There winner in the Volunteers category; Donald Adams of DMI (back); Bart Rocco, who won the Champions award for Leadership and Sarah Tambucci, who received the Champions Special Tribute this year.

SPS teams presented ideas for marketing Remake Learning Days

When Remake Learning Days kick off this year, you just might learn about them during a basketball game at your school.

Remake Learning Director Sunanna Chand asks questions about SPS projects

Marketing at sporting events was an idea that came out of a Student Powered Solutions project earlier this month when teams from McKeesport Area and Woodland Hills high schools gave presentations to Remake Learning Director Sunanna Chand.

Among other things, the students had been charged with generating ideas to attract more parents and adults to Remake Learning Days and identifying stories that might be used in a campaign to promote it. Remake Learning organizes and promotes the events, but they’re hosted by others around the region to showcase innovative learning experiences.

The idea of marketing during athletic events was one of several that caught Chand’s attention after the Woodland Hills team gave findings from a survey showing that sporting events are prime time for reaching parents. She also liked a tagline that the team developed—Remake Learning, the New Cool.

Woodland Hills focused on how Remake Learning could attract more adults, while McKeesport identified stories to tell about innovative learning experiences the kids involved in them..

“I liked doing the project because it brought us all together as a class,” said Jordan, a member of McKeesport’s team.

His classmate Tobias said the experience helped him “work better toward a due date for a big project.”

Overall, the Project-Based Learning experiences that SPS facilitates are intended to connect classrooms with companies or other community partners that can give them real-world opportunities to apply both academic and soft skills.