LCTE stages mock interviews

At the latest session of Leadership in Career & Technical Education, kids enthusiastically held up “Stop” signs during mock job interviews, calling out behaviors and answers that might give employers pause—from slouching in chairs to looking at text alerts.

A mock interview with Program Director Jenn Sethman

They also practiced introducing themselves with the kind of elevator speech needed to quickly make new contacts. As they have in all four LCTE sessions, the kids had time to network with peers from other districts as well adults supporting the program.

This year’s sessions have helped Trinity, a junior from Steel Center for Career & Technical Education, prepare for situations she knows she’ll confront following graduation.

Among other things, “I knew the term ‘networking’ but I didn’t know what it really meant or how important it was,” she said. Nor was Trinity familiar with LinkedIn, the online network lots of professionals use to connect with others who might help them in their work or job searches. She said she can imagine lots of ways to use it.

At the May session, which again brought together Allegheny County’s four CTCs, students also talked about instances where they’d need the soft skills that LCTE emphasizes. In addition to Steel Center, participating CTCs include A.W. Beattie Career Center; Forbes Road Career & Technology Center and Parkway West Career & Technology Center.

Three previous LCTE sessions engaged students in team-building exercises and other situations to practice the kinds of soft skills needed in the workplace.

Students often need this practice to develop the soft skills that research shows are as important to future success as academic performance. LCTE is just one of several programs the Consortium offers to help students build these skills. Aimed exclusively at CTC students, the program aims to reach students who will need these skills to advance within their fields or take on supervisory roles.



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.

Future Ready Alliance offered training in Project-Based Learning

Members of our Future Ready Alliance who wanted a better understanding of Project-Based Learning (PBL) came together in late February for a targeted training session. The session also gave participants training in classroom use of Socratic Seminars and Design Thinking.

“It was the best professional development I’ve ever attended,” said Clairton City School District teacher Kristen Sirbaugh. “It really walked you through” steps needed to incorporate PBL into classroom teaching. The session also gave insights into how  PBL can be used to help students practice soft skills, she said.

The session was one of several “target days” offered this year to districts and schools participating in the Alliance and to others interested in specific tools for helping prepare students for their futures. Earlier in the year, the Alliance offered a target day around portfolio development.

The team projects at the heart of PBL make it an instructional method teachers can use to help students practice soft skills while learning any subject. Among other things, portfolio development helps students set goals, reflect on their school experience and progress and assemble evidence to demonstrate mastery of important skills.

The Alliance brings together educators and other stakeholders to strengthen school and district resources for helping students answer three questions critical to future success—Who am I? Who do I want to be? and How do I get there?

School and district teams participating in the Alliance come together twice a year for general network sessions as well as for target days dedicated to specific topics.










Two Consortium Board members honored

Janet Sardon

Melissa Swauger   

Two Consortium Board members are being honored this year for professional accomplishments. 

Yough School District Superintendent Janet Sardon, Ed.D. has been chosen to receive the Tri-State Area School Study Council’s Distinguished Female Educator award April 4 at this year’s Dr. Jean E, Winsand Workshop for Women in Educational Leadership.

Melissa Swauger, PhD, is being recognized with the 2018 Jane Leonard Award for the Advancement of Women. Dr. Swauger is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.




Consortium adds new Board member

Joseph C. Castagnola

Joseph C. Castagnola, President of McKeesport-based Generation Stoneworks , joined the Consortium’s Board in March. Before becoming its president, he began working at the company his father founded under the name Prada in 2004, learning all aspects of the business  before taking the helm in 2016. Begun in 1988, the family-run business provides custom-designed and fabricated architectural stone to residential and commercial builders.

Since assuming leadership of the company, Castagnola has rebranded it as Generation Stoneworks, expanded its customer network, introduced new technologies and created partnerships with the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, CareerLinks, Central Westmoreland Career & Technology Center, Pittsburgh Technical College and Auberle’s workforce development program.

A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Castagnola holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering. Active in professional and trade organizations, he serves on the boards of the Indiana Limestone Institute of America and the Occupational Advisory Committee for Engineering Technologies at McKeesport High School. He also served previously and as a member of the Elizabeth Township Business & Economic Development Committee.

Castagnola also plays an active role in his community. He has volunteered with the Embark Mentoring program operated by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and as a religious education teacher in the South Side’s Prince of Peace parish.

As a member of the Consortium’s Board, he said he looks forward to helping connect students to businesses and opportunities in their communities and learning more about programs we offer to help prepare students for post-secondary education and careers, including the Future Ready Alliance and Leadership and our Leadership in Career & Technical Education program, among others.

CCK helps Brashear and Perry students check out trade apprenticeships

A junior at Pittsburgh Brashear High School, Dashawn has thought for a while he’d take up carpentry when he graduates, but he didn’t know there was a local apprenticeship training center where he could learn the craft.

Before he visited the Carpenters Training Center run by the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, he said he thought he’d just try to find a job where he could learn. Now, he’s thinking about putting in an application for an apprenticeship.

Dashawn was among students from Pittsburgh Brashear and Perry Traditional Academy who  explored both the Carpenters Training Center and the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Center run by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 5 as part of the Consortium’s College & Career Knowledge (CCK) program.

As part of the visits in March, representatives of both trades filled students in on the application process and the requirements and benefits of their training programs. Key among the benefits is that apprenticeships in carpentry, electrical work and 15 other building trades programs that operate training centers in the region all enable students to earn paychecks while they’re learning.

Like lots of students attracted to  the trades, Dashawn said “I’d like to work outdoors and do something with my hands.”

While carpentry still remains a top choice for realizing those goals, however, he said the CCK explorations helped him see additional options that he’ll probably explore as well.