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Five Questions with Kristin Harty


Name: Kristin Harty
Title: Chairperson/Program Director for Education
Joined Chatham: 2012
Born & Raised: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Interests: My children and their interests

  1. How did you develop an interest in the field in which you teach?

When I was a teenager, I volunteered in The John Merck Unit at Western Psychiatric Hospital.  That unit was specifically for children with dual diagnoses of an intellectual disability and mental health issue. I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I entered college, but had no idea that I could teach children with disabilities. As I was reviewing the advising sheet, one of the majors was special education! I knew then and there that I was going to be a special education teacher.

  1. What makes teaching at Chatham special for you?

My colleagues from all departments make Chatham special. They always have the students’ best interests in mind. I enjoy working with everyone and am very grateful they are willing to help me, even if I ask the same question ten times!

  1. What is your favorite thing about working with Chatham students?

They are the best part of my day! I love teaching! I enjoy getting to know students in and outside of the classroom.  I love when they drop by and ask a question or just stop and chat.

  1. What is your passion?

My passion is working to improve the lives of students with disabilities. I hope that I teach my students to treat people with disabilities with respect and to never place limitations on them.  Allow them to reach for the stars, you just might have to take a different path to get there.

  1. What one individual had the greatest impact on you and how?

My mom and dad! They are my biggest cheerleaders and they lead by example. They instilled the importance of education when I was young. My mom went to night school part time to get her BSN and we graduated together with our master’s degrees from the same university. It was very special having my mom right next to me during the commencement ceremony. My dad always said, “when you go to college“ (never if) and “once you get that degree, no one can take that away from you!” My parents’ love and support for me is what has led to my success.

Kristin Harty is an associate professor of Special Education in the Chatham University Education Department. She loves musicals where her children perform and work on stage crew and the whole family goes to see as many musicals as possible in Pittsburgh and New York.

 

A Class of His Own

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport
LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport. Photos by Annie O’Neill.

This story, by Bethany Lye, originally appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of The Recorder. 

LaVaughn Wesley grew up the eldest child of a single mother of five. His family frequently relocated to start fresh, with young Wesley weathering at least 12 moves across three states.

Amid this shifting backdrop, one ritual took anchor in Wesley’s childhood: his mother would get him a new pair of shoes each fall. “They had to last me the entire school year—just that one pair of shoes,” he recalls. “It was a big deal.”

Wesley, now the father of a 4-year-old girl, had this memory in mind while student teaching in the gray and gritty neighborhood of McKeesport, Pa., last year. A young boy entered his classroom one morning wearing shoes so well-worn, they were losing their soles. “Things like that matter a lot to middle schoolers,” says Wesley, 31. “I thought about my mother and all of our struggles. And I knew what being that boy was like.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Wesley went home, grabbed a pair of Jordan’s from his own closet, and handed ownership over to the student the next day.

“The love that I got back from him was incredible,” recalls Wesley, who is now leading his own classroom at the same school—Propel McKeesport.

The fact that Wesley crossed paths with this student wasn’t by chance—it was by intentional design, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps. This program, now in its second year, partners Chatham University with Propel Schools and aims to graduate social justice leaders who are primed to teach in some of Allegheny County’s most economically underserved communities.

As a member of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps inaugural class, Wesley earned his Pennsylvania teaching certification and a master’s degree from Chatham in just 15 months.

The program, which requires participants to take night classes while teaching in a Propel classroom with a mentor for much of the workweek, isn’t for the faint of heart. “It was as hard as I have ever worked both on an academic and a personal level,” says Wesley.

As part of the program, Chatham reduces tuition fees by 65 percent, and students receive a scholarship that covers the remainder of their tuition bill plus a monthly stipend until they earn their degree. In return, the participants must commit to teaching in the Propel School system for the next three years.

Chatham’s Program Director of Education Kristin Harty runs the University’s half of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, and she believes the program is the only one of its kind in the region.

Her counterpart at Propel Schools, Randy Bartlett, says that the partnership grew out of a clear need to fill classrooms with teachers who were passionate about equity in education—and who could bring stability to urban schools, which have long struggled with a high turnover rate among staff.

“As an organization, Propel recognized a teacher shortage and decided to not only create a new pathway for teachers but find individuals who were social justice minded,” says Bartlett, who serves as the director of teacher residency and research for Propel Schools. “We made a decision that we needed to turn the model on its head.”

Today, the program is marked by a multiyear commitment to developing teachers and comprehensive wraparound support along the way to ensure that they succeed. “This is not your typical training program,” says Bartlett. “We are not preparing students who might go teach somewhere else. We know for a fact that these teachers will be teaching in our classrooms the following year. They are a part of the Propel family from day one—and that makes a big difference.”

Harty notes that another defining feature of the program is its dedication to training teachers who grew up in urban communities similar to those of their students. “These teachers understand the culture, needs and strengths of the neighborhoods they are serving, and there is a strong trust that grows from that common connection.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Wesley, who spent some of his boyhood in McKeesport, fits this requirement to a tee. And his most obvious connection is an important one: he looks the part.

At Propel McKeesport, which spans kindergarten through eighth grade, 71 percent of its 400-student body is black. Wesley is also black, and a rarity in his profession, where roughly 2 percent of public school teachers match both his gender and race. Add in the tattoos covered by his perfectly pressed dress shirt, his nose piercing and the diamond stud in his ear, and Wesley doesn’t just fall outside the mold. He obliterates it. This seemingly artificial factor matters. When Wesley initiated a discussion with his social studies class about racial profiling earlier this year, he spoke from experience—and his students knew it.

Even more than looking the part, Wesley has lived the part. He considers his backstory critical to his success in the classroom where, every single day, he is watching life repeat itself. And he knows firsthand that some of his students are navigating obstacles that are less perceptible than well-worn shoes.

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

“Some of these kids don’t have food at home. Some come from mentally and physically abusive homes—or homes where education isn’t valued and is just a day-to-day thing,” he says. “I see myself in all of these kids. I grew up in the neighborhoods that they lived in. And I have roamed the streets where they live,” he says.

This perspective has helped Wesley set some realistic expectations walking into his teaching career. For one, he’s not out to fix anyone. “As an educator, I know that you cannot have the cape on your back and think that every child seeds to be saved.” He also has a clear sense of what success looks like in his classroom: “I want to get through lessons on a day-to-day basis. And I want to keep things organized and create a culture that is warm, inviting and where students feel comfortable enough to open up and engage.”

Michon Gallaway, 13, is an eighth-grader at Propel McKeesport. From her vantage point in the third row of Wesley’s social studies class, he’s already hitting those marks.

“He understands us. He knows us,” says Gallaway, who recently invited her teacher to watch her perform for her church (he accepted—and kept his promise). “He’s also very caring and a really great teacher.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Gallaway is equally complimentary of her Propel education. “I was struggling a lot before I came here,” she says, noting that her mother initiated the move from the nearby public school. “Now, I have all A’s in my classes, and it will help me get into an excellent high school and a really good college.”

The latest public statistics on Propel McKeesport support Gallaway’s optimism. When it comes to standardized test scores, sixth graders at Propel McKeesport are outperforming their peers at the nearby middle school at every turn. GreatSchools, a nonprofit that uses a 10-point scale to evaluate the quality of K-12 schools across the country, echoes this assessment, scoring Propel McKeesport decisively higher overall (6) than its local counterpart (3).

Bartlett and Harty are confident that the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps program will continue to advance the quality of a Propel School education. And with more teachers like Wesley filling classrooms—and staying put—it’s easy to see why.

As for Wesley, he says he hopes to one day serve as a principal of a Propel school. But for now, he’s focused on making the most of where he stands today—and that’s at the head of the classroom, leading by example. In this role, Wesley is keenly aware that he’s teaching his students a lesson that will never check the box of any state-mandated education requirement. And he’s ok with that.

“They know my story. And, together, we’re building theirs,” he says. “I always tell them, ‘You can succeed, no matter where you come from.’ And, as long as they keep showing up, listening and working hard, I’m going to help them get there.”

mr-wesley

In Memoriam, Dr. Helen Faison

Dr. Helen FaisonThe Chatham University community mourns the loss of Dr. Helen Faison, who passed away on July 16th, and extends our deepest sympathy to Helen’s family and many friends.

Prior to joining the Chatham faculty, Dr. Faison was a trailblazer during her long and distinguished career as an educator and administrator with the Pittsburgh Public School District.  In 1968, for example, she became the first woman and first African American to hold a high school principal position in the District.  In 1983, as deputy superintendent, she became the District’s then-highest ranking woman.

In 1994, Dr. Faison arrived at then-Chatham College as a Distinguished Professor of Education. Her high educational standards, effective leadership style, and devotion to her students led to her appointment as Chair of Chatham’s Department of Education in 1996.  As Department Chair, Dr. Faison secured Pennsylvania Department of Education authorization for expanded teacher certification offerings and for the environmental education, special education, and physics subject areas.  A driving force behind the creation of these new programs was the difficulty experienced by the Pittsburgh Public Schools in their recruitment of qualified teachers in such specialties, particularly in physics.  In response, Dr. Faison created a groundbreaking physics certification program, in which Chatham certification students were instructed in their physics content area by the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).  This collaborative certification program was the first of its kind to be granted in Pennsylvania.

As Chair, she also guided the development of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, one of Chatham’s first masters programs.  Because of her belief in the importance of integrating technology into urban schools, Dr. Faison implemented a special project to bring instructional technology education to teachers already working in the schools.  The Center for Excellence in Technology-Based Teaching and Learning, supported by a grant from the Eden Hall Foundation, provided instructional technology workshops, a resource center, and mini-grants for teachers in urban schools to develop technology-based curricula.

Under Dr. Faison’s leadership, Chatham, in partnership with CMU and the Pittsburgh Public School District, was selected in 1998 as one of only four sites nationwide to receive an implementation grant, which led to the establishment of the Pittsburgh Teachers Institute (PTI) at Chatham University.  As Director of PTI, Dr. Faison helped make Chatham a leader in supporting and improving Pittsburgh’s public schools.  The Institute strengthened teaching and learning in the local schools and, by example and assistance, in schools across the country.  The Institute offered seminars in the humanities and sciences led by university faculty members in response to the needs and interests of local school teachers.  The faculty and school teachers, or Fellows, worked collegially to explore a variety of topics that Fellows then used to write curriculum units they used in their own classrooms and, potentially, in the classrooms of other teachers.  Dr. Faison’s efforts provided 77 seminars to nearly 1000 of these teachers.

Dr. Faison left Chatham during the academic year 1999-2000 to assume temporarily the responsibilities of Interim Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, becoming the first African American to lead Pittsburgh’s schools.  She returned to Chatham and her post as Director of PTI in September 2000.  In 2010, Dr. Faison retired after fifteen years as the Director of PTI.

Prior to retiring from Chatham, Dr. Faison participated in a film project of Jessica’s Labyrinth by the late Chatham faculty member Bob Cooley (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjNjmWrptq4). Dr. Faison is the first person to enter and the last person to leave the labyrinth during the piece.

At Chatham’s May 1998 Commencement ceremony, Chatham’s Board of Trustees recognized Dr. Faison for her exceptional service and dedication with the Trustee Distinguished Service Award.  In August 2007, shortly after Chatham College had been granted university status, Chatham selected Dr. Faison to receive the first honorary doctorate award to be awarded by Chatham University.

 

FROM PRESIDENT BARAZZONE: SWEET BRIAR COLLEGE

On February 28, 2015 the Board of Trustees of Sweet Briar College, a small women’s liberal arts college in Virginia, announced that the College would be closing this summer because of the “insurmountable financial challenges” resulting from the dwindling number of women interested in single-sex education, pressures on small liberal arts colleges and the challenge of recruiting students to more rural settings.  On behalf of the Chatham community, I write to reflect sadness for the loss of this fine college from the ranks of US higher education, and to express our sympathy to the Sweet Briar community (students, faculty, staff and alumnae) for their loss.

Except for the last factor cited by Sweet Briar’s Board, Chatham has wrestled with many of the same challenges that led Sweet Briar to close its doors (unlike Sweet Briar, Chatham is fortunate to be situated in a welcoming and supportive major metropolitan area).  And though we understand and appreciate that every higher education institution’s situation is different, that what works in one institution may or may not work in another, our own recent experiences suggest that our survival rests on more than our urban setting.

Foremost among them are Chatham’s core excellence, our commitment to the growth of the individual (which after all was the original meaning of ending the discrimination which denied access for women to higher education), and our continuing commitment to change and innovation.  The former dates back to our founding, while the latter dates back to the early ’90’s when we diversified our academic profile, adding to our undergraduate liberal arts program with applied graduate programs.

Without the continuing commitment to change and innovation, we would not be where we are today.  It allowed us to face down tough challenges such as the ’08 financial crash with the attendant fiscal constraints in which we all participated.  It inspired us to take the opportunity given to us by the Eden Hall and Falk Foundations and reposition the institution and become a national leader in the vitally important field of sustainability.  And when we could no longer ignore the risks of single gender education, it led us to become coeducational at the undergraduate level (which will be realized next fall) while working to preserve the women’s mission with the formation of the Women’s Institute.

That same spirit of change and innovation has been much in evidence over the past year.  We have reorganized the university to provide access to graduate programs upon admission to undergraduate education and with the revision have also facilitated transfer.  And thanks to the great leadership of Dr. Bill Lenz, Dr. Jenna Templeton and many others, the faculty has created in only one semester the outline for a curriculum revision that, along with the Chatham Plan (the new professional preparation program for undergraduates starting in fall 2015), addresses many of the current public concerns about liberal arts while nonetheless still ensuring they underpin all majors.

Although it is still early, the results from our recent changes and innovation are encouraging.  At this time the deposited first time first year class is nearly double that of last year with no significant rise in discount rate. Graduate and other programs are also up.

All of the encouraging news, however, is tempered by our caution about the future and our appreciation of the need to press ahead with attempts to strengthen Chatham in every way possible – innovation when needed, programmatic and enrollment growth, help with recruitment and fundraising to complete our $100 million capital campaign – to preserve and advance this exceptional institution.  Sweet Briar, just to bring the point into sharper focus, had even at the end more endowment ($94 million) than our scrappy college has (approximately $80 million, $15 million of which was only recently given by the Falk Foundation).

In reflecting on the news from Sweet Briar and on all that we have accomplished in recent years, I would like to thank all of you – Chatham’s faculty, administration, staff, alumnae/i and students – for your commitment to Chatham and your commitment to the continuous innovations and change which have permitted us to advance thus far.

I express my gratitude for the caring, willingness, and openness with which we all go into our future as proud members of the Chatham community.  It has required, and will require in the future, the energies and committed work of each of us to realize our mission.

Sincerely,

Esther B.

DEAN OF INNOVATION: DR. LENZ PREPARES FOR THE FUTURE

Lenz 960x540Dr. William (Bill) Lenz, Pontious Professor of English, has been at Chatham for 34 years. Bill has served as the Chair of the Humanities and the director of the Chatham Scholars program; traveled with students to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Belize, Guatemala and Haiti; founded and grown the Masters in Professional Writing program from eight students to 100 students and moved it completely online; and written three books and numerous papers and articles on American literature and culture. In September, Pittsburgh Magazine nominated him as one of Pittsburgh’s “Best Professors.”

This June, President Esther Barazzone appointed him to the newly-created position and nation’s first Dean of Undergraduate Innovation. In this role, Dr. Lenz will work with all University constituencies to review institutional practices and curriculum at the undergraduate level to determine ways in which Chatham can best serve students and society in a world in which “disruptive change” has become the norm in higher education.


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