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Highlands district plans rally in support of public education

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 12:51 a.m.

Many people supporting public education fear for its survival, and Highlands School District hopes to throw it a lifeline Wednesday.

The district and its teachers union are sponsoring a “Proud To Be Public Education” Rally in front of the middle school along Broadview Boulevard.

“I believe the district still feels it is important for us to show our solidarity for public education funding,” said Jennifer Goldberg, a Highlands spokeswoman. “This is a multi-district event; we invited other districts to join us. It's also an opportunity for us to show off some of our students and public education programs.”

Public school administrators and school boards are concerned about their schools being able to operate effectively because of factors such as funding cuts by the state, unfunded government mandates and the required reimbursement for students in cyber and charter schools.

“We all feel that public education is under attack with the budgets being cut so drastically the last couple of years,” said Carrie Fox, Highlands school board president.

Fox said that is even true of people involved in policy-making in Harrisburg — the state legislators.

Goldberg said most of the area legislators have been invited to attend and at least one, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, (D-Oakmont) has accepted the invitation and will speak.

“They are paying attention now,” Fox said. “We are teaching them what is going on because they did not really know. They want to know; they really care.”

She and Goldberg said it's important that members of the public get involved and show elected officials they support public education so that it impacts the laws and policies they create.

Goldberg said invitations have been extended to school boards, administrators and teachers in about 30 districts. She said so far, people from at least three districts, South Butler, Allegheny Valley and New Kensington-Arnold, have indicated they will attend.

There is an open invitation for parents, students and citizens from around the area, too.

In addition to speakers such as Dermody, Goldberg said, “We have a sampling of our music students performing, We'll have some refreshments, and there will be art displays from students from our primary center up to the high school level.”

She said the Hear Me Project at Carnegie Mellon University also will participate.

Hear Me, as described on its website, is a collaborative network of community organizations, institutions, businesses and foundations working together to provide a better future for kids.

Hear Me records the thoughts and stories of children, giving them a voice and providing adults with a better understanding of their educational experiences.

Advocates for improving school climate can use the information to inform education policies at the local, state, and national levels.

The project will have two rooms in the middle school where children's thoughts and comments will be recorded, Goldberg said.

Last year, the district held a similar event but it was a candlelight vigil. Goldberg and Fox believe the event this year will be bigger.

“I think the goal is for this to be come bigger each year,” Goldberg said. “We want to pick a date on the calendar and have it every year — a celebration of public education.”

“It's a great thing,” Fox said. “Everybody who was there last year left with a really good feeling.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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