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Duquesne parents, students seek answers

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

Duquesne residents have mulled over alternatives during 13 years of direct state control of its public schools.

Iyana Tennon offers her nonpublic Virtuous Academy.

Tennon has had only a handful of students since she opened her doors in 2008. She offers a “positive” choice for up to 100 students in 2013-14.

The city's public Duquesne Education Center has approximately 400 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Virtuous Academy is a worthy investment into a child's academic success and future,” Tennon said as she planned an open house, slated for Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at the academy's latest location, One Library Place.

Tennon focuses on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. She now has a second teacher.

“Victoria Reusch is a wonderful addition,” Tennon said. “Her professionalism and high expectation of student achievement keeps students engaged and looking forward to her class.”

Others sought Duquesne charter schools. In 2006 Propel chose the city for its first high school, something it later located in Munhall.

Duquesne City School District's state-appointed Board of Control did with the Pittsburgh-based charter school operator what it later did with former city school board member Connie Lucas' plans.

“Propel did pursue the charter in Harrisburg after the Board of Control failed to act on its charter application,” Propel spokeswoman Angela Gaitaniella said. “When we did, the (Charter School) Appeal Board said that because of Duquesne's status, it was under no obligation to vote at all.”

The BOC also failed to act on two plans from Lucas. She withdrew one after district Superintendent Paul Rach produced more than 100 objections. Her second plan never received consideration as the BOC went out of business.

Under state Act 141 of 2012, Duquesne was declared by education secretary Ron Tomalis to be in severe financial recovery and the BOC was replaced by chief recovery officer Paul B. Long.

Like Propel, Lucas appealed to Harrisburg, but she's still waiting for her day before the Charter School Appeal Board.

Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said Tuesday's appeal board hearing was canceled.

Meanwhile, Long offered a recovery plan with four scenarios. The elected Duquesne school board rejected it, prompting a PDE petition to put the district into receivership with Long in charge.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Judith L.A. Friedman continues a hearing on that petition until April 2.

Long and PDE preferred a voluntary transfer of Duquesne elementary students to any of 11 districts. All turned him down or took no action on his request.

On Tuesday, state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, sent a Right-to-Know request to Tomalis for a list of all districts on the state's watch list.

“We have been told that (Gov. Tom Corbett's administration) has been looking specifically at a number of schools that may be declared distressed,” Brewster said.

Brewster believes some of those schools also are in his 45th District, as is Duquesne.

“The department is not aware of any requests from the senator that have gone unanswered,” Eller said. “The department provides information to both members and staff of the General Assembly when it is requested.”

The PDE spokesman said his department listed information about the early warning system on its website.

Propel no longer seeks a school in Duquesne but does take Duquesne youngsters.

“Propel is always looking for ways to pursue its mission of improving access to high quality schools,” Gaitaniella said. “All Propel schools are open to applicants from Duquesne school district, and any other school district.”

Propel has taken applications for 2013-14 since Oct. 1.

“We have received about 150 applications from Duquesne, the majority applying to our Homestead and McKeesport schools, both kindergarten through eighth grade,” Gaitaniella said.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.