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Duquesne schools, community leaders look for student connection

| Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 7:09 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
The Rev. David Queen, police Sgt. Ozie Sparks, Duquesne principal Sharon McIntosh, city controller Beth Kracinovsky, parent council president Joan Hozier and Duquesne/West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club director Pat Bluett met Thursday to discuss ways to better connect students with the community.

Local leaders are rallying behind Duquesne students through an evolving program that links the city school district to the community.

With court-appointed receiver Paul Long charged with monitoring the academic and financial recovery of Duquesne City School District, school administrators and community leaders are doing their part to make sure students want to learn.

Community Connections, formed at the start of the school year to build a city-wide network of student support, met Thursday afternoon to strengthen ties and develop strategies.

Elementary school principal Sharon McIntosh shared the student body's demographic and academic statistics and encouraged those in attendance to use the online performance profile at to research the district.

McIntosh said the district wants the community to help turn around the school's score of 49.3 and rid itself of the red arrow that indicates Duquesne Elementary is a “priority” for the state Department of Education.

“Anytime someone sees red, it's an indication that we have some work to do,” McIntosh said. “That's why you're here. We need your input on what we can do to improve.”

Administrators attended a seminar on school improvement processes, where they learned about another district that was able to overcome its challenges, McIntosh said.

“What they had in their favor is what we have around this table — a community connection,” she said. “They made sure that every child, every day, was learning. We can do that.”

Attendees shared what they believe their roles can be as they push students toward improved academic achievement.

Acting Superintendent Barbara McDonnell and assistant to the superintendent Stan Whiteman spoke about sharing good news about Duquesne schools with the community by using social media technology that parents and others have at their fingertips.

“We need to continue to improve our communication and let parents and the community know about the positive things going on in our schools,” Whiteman said.

Student services coordinator Martina Vitalbo explained the district's mission to overcome students' social, emotional and mental health barriers. Students have individual learning plans that address all of their classroom needs.

School nurse Maureen Callas presented information on decreasing the spread of germs, which is being communicated to students as well as adults.

“A big issue in school is how to keep students healthy enough to have them in school and able to achieve,” Callas said. “One reason for kids not being here is the common cold and related illnesses.”

She encouraged community leaders to model good hygiene practices such as washing hands after using the bathroom or touching garbage. She encouraged folks to cough or sneeze into their elbows rather than hands to cut down on the transfer of germs.

“Hopefully the district's data will show in March that we're improving attendance with a few simple lessons,” Callas said.

Duquesne-West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club board member Beth Kracinovsky and director Pat Bluett described after-school programs that support rather than duplicate what students learn in class. They said it's important for children to understand that they are a part of their community.

“I am a proud Duquesne graduate, and I always try to give back on a personal level,” Kracinovsky, the city controller, said. “Children need to understand that they're not just Duquesne students. They are Duquesne community members.”

Community Connections members are expected to attend the next receiver's meeting on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Duquesne Education Center auditorium, when city officials will present awards to two honor students.

The organization is open to any who believe they can contribute to the success of Duquesne students. For more information or to attend a meeting, call 412-466-9600.

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