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Duquesne to tailor learning to individual needs

| Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 9:58 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Chief recovery officer Paul Rach, education consultant Linda Nelson and Superintendent Barbara McDonnellIn inspect Duquesne's model classroom.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Duquesne City School District administrators and staff members Stan Whiteman, Jennifer Jennings, Monica Walker, Maureen Callas and Sarah Switalski used an in-service day to finalize plans for the school year that begins today.

When classes open today in Duquesne, approximately 350 students in kindergarten through sixth grade will begin individual education plans intended to push them and the school district toward maximum achievement.

This is the second year that Duquesne City School District will educate only its elementary-level students in house.

Last year, students in seventh and eighth grades joined Duquesne upperclassmen at West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny schools, where they have been since Duquesne High School closed in 2007.

Under direction of newly appointed Superintendent Barbara McDonnell, assistant to the superintendent Stan Whiteman and student services coordinator Martina Vitalbo, an enthusiastic staff is pulling together educational techniques and technological resources to give students the tools to succeed.

McDonnell, an educator and administrator in Duquesne schools since 1999, said the district is taking a prescriptive approach to education.

“We want to work with our students,” she said. “Each child will follow an individual learning plan. If we learn what everyone's strengths and weaknesses are … everyone will be challenged and engaged in the classroom.”

McDonnell said there will be less disruption by focusing students and giving them opportunities to receive extra instruction from teachers and classroom coaches.

Whether students excel or struggle with classroom topics and tasks, their learning plans will reflect their needs.

Vitalbo's role, in part, will be to work with students and families on boosting those who are having difficulties.

“We're trying to redefine her role to help students who have learning issues,” McDonnell said. “We want to find out what's stopping them from being successful in this building.”

Teachers in every grade will work to meet specific needs and to gain a technological edge.

The district installed a new model classroom that will be used for professional development and coordination of curriculum. New technology includes eight SMART Boards, an ELMO projector and an Apple TV.

“We're trying to raise their level of excitement so that, when the students return, they can feel that,” McDonnell said. “We're trying to get that energy back.”

The school district is using social media to reach out to the community. Information is available online at, and the district will post updates on Facebook and Twitter. There's even an independent app that can be downloaded for iPhone and Android operating systems.

“We're embracing social media,” said Sarah McCluan of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which provides public relations services for the district. “It's three more ways that we can reach parents and the Duquesne community.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or