This article is from the September 2008 issue of the PCO newsletter, comPOST.
Stepping back to admire the view: A brief history of the PCO
by Kate Luce Angell
When PCO secretary Marla Ferrency and after school program director Kristan Abeshouse look around the school today, they say they’re amazed at how far it’s come since the charter was approved in February.
At that time, ECS was little more than a vacant building, a visionary Board, and committed Parent/Community Task Force members like Marla and Kristan. “We’ve come a long way in only seven months,” said Marla. “I’ve had so many ‘pinch me’ moments,” added Kristan. Both have Kindergarteners in Ms. Raimondo’s class.
But ECS history goes back farther, to spring 2006, when Board president Barbara Hicks started discussing with friends the possibility of founding a school in the Regent Square Elementary building, which closed in 2004.
Along with co-founders David Lassman and Mike Schiller, Ms. Hicks recruited the 12-person board, as well as bringing in Phil Parr, a former chief of staff for Pittsburgh Public Schools who acts as Imagine Schools’ regional developer.
In March 2006, both Marla and Kristan signed up as Parent/Community Task Force volunteers at a meeting held to gauge community interest in an environmentally themed charter school.
In the following months, Task Force members collected hundreds of signatures on petitions, wrote letters to Pittsburgh school board members and posted flyers.
Kristan said she never doubted the school would become a reality, but that there were some bumps in the road. The school’s application for a charter was denied by the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ review board in January 2007.
The review board’s biggest concern was that ECS had no prepared environmental curriculum. Kristan said when Green Woods, a successful environmentally themed charter school in Philadelphia, offered to share theirs, “that was the missing piece.”
But getting the charter was only the beginning of another set of challenges. Although in good shape overall, the building had water damage and had to be brought up to code and furnished. A staff had to be interviewed, hired and trained. A thousand decisions had to be made about scheduling and procedures.
And in the almost two years between the first meeting and the granting of the charter, many Task Force members had moved on and enrolled their children in other schools.
“We had to reinvigorate the group, which meant starting almost from the beginning with recruiting people,” Marla said.
Volunteer sign-up sheets at summer events like the Ice Cream Social brought in members to the newly renamed Parent Community Organization, and about ten of the most active became the Interim Executive Committee.
Marla explained that because decisions impacting the beginning of the year had to be made very quickly, the Interim Committee couldn’t include every volunteer.
“We had to keep it a manageable size to get things moving,” she said, but added that starting with the first PCO meeting September 25, “we’re hoping others will step up and take over.”
Parents don’t need to join the PCO, she pointed out. “Everyone with a child at the school is already a member.”
Meanwhile, principal Jon McCann and curriculum coordinator Kristen Priganc came on board, and Kristan said despite the hard work, “they just smiled through the whole thing.”
Jon worked so many late nights, she added, that they joked about getting him a cot so he could sleep at the school.
Now that school’s in session, Kristan said every parent, volunteer and staff member should take a step back. “We need to celebrate all our accomplishments.”
She also stressed that this first year was the “big year or patience.”
“We have to remember we’re laying the groundwork for a legacy. Hopefully our kids will look back and say, ‘I was in the very first class and look where I am now.’”