- Northside Urban Pathways 2010 Spring Concert
- Anthony Negron - Graduation Project
- Math in My World by Assata Muhammad
- NUP Book Fair
- Optimus Prime with student dancers Ty Moran and Virgil Moore: Instructor Rosalyn Cruz
- Sounds of Steel Performing ‘Sleep Walk’: Instructor Tracy Whorton
- Arizona Immigration Law Debate
- Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) Wholesale/Retail Trip
- Math Department Teacher Phil McCaffrey's FedEx Experiment
- Science Department Teacher Tina Hayes - Dissection Class
- Q & A with Linda Clautti
Dr. Linda Clautti, Chief Executive Officer, Northside Urban Pathways Charter School
Q & A with Linda Clautti
By Carmen J. Lee
Endowments Communications Officer
When Linda Clautti became Northside Urban Pathways’ chief executive officer in 2003, many people didn’t know the downtown Pittsburgh charter school existed. Its building had no signage to identify it, no guard in the lobby, no windows. The other tenants were government agencies. Today large, street-level windows display the activities and accomplishments of students, and the school’s name prominently adorns the building doorway. Clautti describes how Northside Urban Pathways staff also has immersed itself in providing students with quality education and important life opportunities – and gained national as well as local attention for the efforts.
Q: What has been your school’s biggest triumph of the past year?
A: We found out two weeks ago that 100 percent of our seniors have been accepted to colleges and universities, and about 54 percent of the schools are four-year colleges. Last year, the acceptance rate was 98 percent, and the year before that it was 95 percent. We think that’s pretty neat, and the kids are excited. It’s meaningful for them because I think a lot of our students are the first ones in their family to go college.
We also had a Milken Educator Award winner, Jamilla Rice. It’s a national award, and there’s a winner from every state, so she was the one from Pennsylvania. Jamilla teaches English, Advanced Placement and is director of curriculum. She’ll actually be awarded $25,000, personally. The school gets recognition. She gets money. (Chuckles)
Q: What has been the biggest trial?
A: Money. We offer many social services to kids because our population of students is probably the most challenging in the city in terms of poverty, according to a Heinz-funded study released a couple years ago. We have tutoring programs after school from 3:30 to 5:30 pm, Monday through Friday. That’s an expensive program because we have about 80 kids who stay for it, and you have to feed them something, a little snack. We also give them incentives, such as a $1 or $2 coupon for McDonald’s at the end of the week, if they come to all their tutoring sessions. For the past two years, it’s made a difference, but you have to pay tutors. Then we have a Saturday school that’s offered from 9 a.m. to noon, and we pay teachers extra to come and help kids during that time as well.
We’re also strapped for space here. We occupy five floors of this building – 40,000 square feet – and we need another 20,000. There’s no gym. There’s no track. We have to rent those facilities, and when you rent those services, it’s expensive.
Q: What issue or event has had the most impact – positive or negative – on your school in the past year and how have you responded?
A: Positively, I think it’s the college acceptances. The kids and their families are so excited, and we’ve taken this opportunity one step further. We have a part-time counselor who is instrumental in getting students into college, and recently we hired a woman from Carnegie Mellon University whose job is to work with the kids from the point that they are accepted. She will help them through the summer so they have what they need to go to college, make sure they actually attend the college they’ve been accepted to, and then follow them through that first year in school. We want them to know that we’re still a resource for them because that’s the most difficult part for some students, the period from the time they’re accepted to college through that first year.
You hear the argument that not everyone is right for college, and I’m sure that’s the case. But that’s what we do here. We meet with families one-on-one every year to give them individual attention and to let them know that we want to get kids into college. If they want that competitive edge, we want to give that to them.
Q: What other new initiatives have been started?
A: We have two strong mentoring programs. As we refined our three-year-old program called BAAM, which stands for Benefitting African American Males, we were able to start one for girls called WISE – Women in Sync Everywhere. We seek out professionals to be mentors to these students and meet with them once a month – for the boys, it’s two hours in the evening, and for the girls, it’s two hours in the afternoon. Both programs run through the summer. And whatever relationship the mentor, the parent and the child want outside of that two-hour, once-a-month time frame is fine. The whole idea is for the mentor to stay with that child through the first year in college because that is where our students need the most support.
As part of a second major initiative that we started last year, I’ve done away with traditional counselors other than our part-time college counselor, and focused on maintaining a staff of licensed social workers, psychologists and a minister who comes from Youngstown, Ohio, twice a week. They have their own caseloads here. I did this because the students’ family situations are heavy. It’s not just the economics. It’s prison. It’s drug and alcohol abuse. Many of our students are heads of households. I’m not saying that’s what all our families look like, but if that’s the case with many of our students, I feel we have a responsibility to try to give them the tools to deal with that in a positive way. What’s interesting now is that the students are starting to self-refer themselves for help.
Q: As head of this school, what goals do you have for it next year?
A: I think just to continue with the emotional support and to make that even more prevalent. We’re also changing our uniform next year. We’re going to jackets and ties for the boys and blazers for the girls because they need to experience what it means to look like a professional going to work, and their work right now is to be a student. I want the kids to know what a good, professional working environment looks like and feels like, so that when they get there, they know what not to put up with.
Q: So if your school was a person, what type of personality would you say it had?
A: I’d say three “E’s”: eclectic, ethical and engaging. The kids are engaging. The staff is engaging.
Q: What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about your school?
A: That we’re on the North Side (laughs). As the story goes, the people who founded the school 12 years ago anticipated getting a building on the North Side, but that did not happen. We have had discussions about changing the name. But right now we’re looking for additional space, so if we end up on the North Side, we’ll probably keep the name. If not, we will reconsider that; it’s part of our strategic plan to revisit the name of the school.
Q: Can you share a short story about an incident or event that illustrates the impact you believe your school is having on your local community or the region?
A: At the start of the school year, one of the social workers told me that we were getting a lot of kids coming to talk about Children, Youth and Families referrals, but they didn’t want to leave their homes. They wanted help for their parents, and they’re seeking help for their parents. I thought that was pretty profound, when you can get young people to recognize the difference between a functional and a dysfunctional environment and to try to change that in a positive way. I think there’s a lot of growth there.
Q: Could you share a short story about an individual’s experience that captures what your school is meant to be to the community?
A: Markeya Lowry is an alumna who works with our admissions and discipline office. She came to me last summer and created a job for herself while she works on a master’s degree. Markeya was one of the first graduates I had after I came here in 2003. She’s a very mature individual, and she does a lot of incredible one-on-one mentoring with kids. She and our licensed social worker also meet every week with the girls who are in the young women’s mentoring group. The program formally meets once a month, but they figured that it would be better if they could meet with these girls once a week to keep them engaged, and it’s worked. I think she’s a real success story, a great role model. And what started out to be a very part-time summer job ended up as full-time employment for this young lady.