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Westinghouse ‘optimistic’ as it receives Wilkinsburg pupils

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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Erika Thomas, 14, of Wilkinsburg hugs her cousin, Mondale Thomas 14, of Willkinsburg, during a tour of Westinghouse Academy during the first half-day at their new school, Friday, August, 26, 2016. Both students are incoming freshman.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Westinghouse Academy seniors, Shauntel Segars, 17, Jade Centeno 17, and Dante Lindsay 16, (left to right starting from third from the right) during the first half-day at their new school, Friday, August, 26, 2016. Both students are incoming freshman.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Erika Thomas, 14, of Wilkinsburg laughs with her fellow students during a tour of Westinghouse Academy on the first half-day at her new school, Friday, August, 26, 2016. Thomas is an incoming freshman.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Mondale Thomas 14, of Willkinsburg, has his photo taken for his new student I.D. by LaToya Hamm, social worker at Westinghouse before a tour of on his first half-day at their new school, Friday, August, 26, 2016. Thomas is an incoming freshman.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Briayna Barnett-Davis (left), 14, of Wilkinsburg and Erika Thomas, 14, of Wilkinsburg talk with Dawn Gordon, 9th grade social worker at Westinghouse (middle) during a tour of Westinghouse Academy during the first half-day at their new school, Friday, August, 26, 2016. Both students are incoming freshman.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Briayna Barnett-Davis 14, of Wilkinsburg stands in the hallway during a tour of Westinghouse Academy during the first half-day at their new school, Friday, August, 26, 2016. Barnett-Davis is an incoming freshman.

Tyvone Stewart dragged himself out of bed Friday morning for an optional half-day at Westinghouse Academy, where the school year officially begins Monday.

“I came today so I can know where I’m going,” Stewart, 14, said after taking a tour of the school in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood with other incoming freshmen.

He laughed at the jokes cracked by the upperclassmen who led the tour, but he wasn’t sure it helped.

“I’m going to be lost on Monday,” he said, shaking his head.

Ninth-grade students across Pittsburgh were invited to participate in orientation activities Friday in advance of the start of school next week. Students from nearby Wilkinsburg will be attending Westinghouse for the first time.

“I’ve told everybody they’re our kids now,” said Principal Louann Zwieryznski. “Wilkinsburg is just another neighborhood we serve.”

The Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg school boards agreed last fall to have Wilkinsburg students in seventh through 12th grades attend Westinghouse, which offers more programs and extracurricular activities. Wilkinsburg will pay tuition for each student and cover the cost of busing them two miles to and from school.

“We want to make sure we’re supportive of their needs,” said Linda Iverson, who became Wilkinsburg’s superintendent Wednesday. She will visit Westinghouse for the first time Monday morning, when she and Pittsburgh Superintendent Anthony Hamlet will welcome students back to school.

Wilkinsburg School District now has about 500 students at two elementary schools, which are both scheduled to be renovated next year.

The district has struggled with declining enrollment for years and was forced to cut class offerings and extracurricular activities. In 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Education placed the district on a financial watch list.

Iverson said sending the older students to Westinghouse will help put Wilkinsburg back on track financially and allow it to place a “laser focus” on Pre-K through sixth grade instruction.

That’s part of what attracted Iverson, a former Baltimore City Public Schools administrator, to take over as Wilkinsburg’s superintendent under a three-year contract with a $120,000 starting salary. After serving for about a decade — as a middle-school teacher and principal in Baltimore — she turned her focus to elementary education.

While Iverson applauded the school board’s decision to send its secondary students to Westinghouse, some community members have expressed concerns about safety and the quality of education at Westinghouse, which has struggled academically.

But Zwieryznski, appointed Westinghouse principal in 2014, said her staff has worked to improve and “write a new story” for the school.

With the help of a $1.4 million School Improvement Grant and $3 million from the Department of Education to assist with the partnership, Westinghouse has hired additional counselors and social workers and offered additional training to teachers. Students have already participated in events to help them get to know one another.

Zwieryznski said she is confident this will help ease the transition and reduce safety concerns.

“I’m very optimistic,” she said.

Ninth grade is a transition year for them no matter what part of town they come from, Zwieryznski said.

Stewart, a former Faison K-8 student who is looking forward to the cross country and basketball seasons, and other freshmen touring the school insisted they weren’t nervous.

“It’s high school,” he said.

Elizabeth Behrman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].

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