Courier Exclusive Report: HAMLET SPEAKS OUT – PPS Superintendent tired of the KDKA-TV attacks, calls it ‘a smear campaign’

(EDITOR’S NOTE: TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW WITH DR. HAMLET AND THE NEW PITTSBURGH COURIER, CLICK LINK BELOW)

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Before he ever was a professional educator, a superintendent of schools, Anthony Hamlet was a star football player at the University of Miami. He then played in the NFL as a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts, and later played in the Canadian Football League.

Dr. Hamlet has a towering presence, often the tallest, biggest guy in the room. He’s not one to back down from anything or anyone.

That includes KDKA-TV and its investigative reporter, Andy Sheehan.

In a June 4 exclusive interview with New Pittsburgh Courier reporters Rob Taylor Jr. and Christian Morrow, Dr. Hamlet, the Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, vehemently denied all wrongdoing that’s been reported by KDKA-TV and other media outlets, pertaining to violating state ethics laws, personally benefiting from a trip to Cuba, or giving Pittsburgh Public Schools “Education Technology” program contracts to his friends in his home state of Florida.

“You have some reporters, Andy Sheehan namely being No. 1, leading with lies, half-truths and innuendos, making these vague statements to the public about me making it seem as if I’m doing something that’s nefarious or illegal, which is not the case,” Dr. Hamlet told the Courier.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the public is not being told the truth. I thought, as far as when it comes to journalism, you deal in facts, you don’t deal in vague innuendo, using terms like, ‘it seems,’ ‘it appears.’ What facts do you have for the public so they can make sound decisions?”

Since early May, Dr. Hamlet has been a regular topic on KDKA-TV. The station broke the news about Dr. Hamlet and other top PPS administrators taking what the station called an “unauthorized trip” out of the country to Cuba during spring break. The school board had approved a trip for administrators to travel to Miami to meet with The Flying Classroom founder Barrington Irving on an education-based trip.

Irving later told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he never informed Dr. Hamlet or other PPS officials that he would be flying them to Cuba as part of the educational experience. The school board must vote on any international travel for PPS officials, and that never happened before the trip to Cuba occurred.

Dr. Hamlet told the Courier that he has nothing to hide concerning that trip. “The review will be out soon, and again, you’ll find no improprieties,” he said.

PPS appointed former Pittsburgh Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge to handle the independent investigation.

Then, in mid-May, Sheehan unveiled a nearly five-minute story on how Education Technology programs that PPS has been implementing has cost the district $14 million (with 50 contracts). In Sheehan’s words, the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ “technological buying spree…appears to have hurt, rather than help, student performance.”

Sheehan said there were 12 teachers and staff who said the EdTech programs have “hurt their ability to educate kids.” But no teachers or staff members spoke on camera, and there were no names associated with the teachers and staff making the claims.

Dr. Hamlet had a fierce response to the KDKA report.

“So if you really did talk to 12 people, I would say, we really can’t believe you right now because you make up so many things when it comes to me that are not true,” Dr. Hamlet said about Sheehan’s reporting. “So where’s your facts, where’s your information, and you’re talking about 12 people, 12 teachers per se, and we have roughly 2,000 teachers…”

Dr. Hamlet said that as head of the largest school system in the region, “and we need systemic change, the nature of change is that people are going to resist…but where’s our data sending us? Where’s our data leading us? That’s the question, nobody’s talking about that. You can come up with all these assumptions and innuendo saying nothing’s working, but I can give you sound data telling you that what we’re doing is working for all of our children, and especially our African American students. We’re continuing to progress,” Dr. Hamlet told the Courier exclusively.

Then, on May 30, Sheehan broke the news on KDKA of Dr. Hamlet not filing financial forms for the past two years, forms that are required yearly by the State Ethics Commission for any public official or employee involved in spending.

For this reason, City Controller Michael Lamb announced he was filing a complaint against Dr. Hamlet with the State Ethics Commission. It’s the first complaint he’s filed with the Commission since becoming city controller. Lamb is also controller for the PPS school board.

Dr. Hamlet, an hour or so after the report aired, filed the financial forms for 2017 and 2018. The forms, according to PublicSource, indicated that Dr. Hamlet “received no outside compensation and no gifts, transportation or hospitality.”

Mix all of the KDKA reports together, and one could get the notion that there’s some funny business happening with Dr. Hamlet and the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Where did the money come from to travel to Cuba? Why didn’t Dr. Hamlet and top officials get prior approval before flying to Cuba for a few days? Are there certain entities and companies that are receiving preferential treatment or being awarded contracts that are in any way associated with Dr. Hamlet or other top PPS officials?

Dr. Hamlet told the Courier he’s had enough of the misleading reports. He called Sheehan’s reporting of the Education Technology programs “salacious,” and that television ratings were behind the station’s decision to air Sheehan’s stories in the month of May, which is known as “sweeps month” for local television news stations.

“We still have much work to do, but distractions designed to attract ratings do not help what should be a common goal for everyone: getting the best results for students,” Dr. Hamlet said in a statement after the Education Technology report aired.

The Courier asked Dr. Hamlet during the June 4 interview if he was “angry” about the reports that have aired on TV and in local media outlets.

“I would say disappointed, yes, angry, no,” he replied. “I understand the nature of some people and what they’re about. I was in this program called the AASA/Howard Urban Superintendents Academy, and we talked about this very thing from the very beginning of that yearlong program. It’s not if, it’s when they’re going to come at you about something, and it’s never about student achievement, it’s never about what your job truly is, it’s about these other things that are out there that has nothing to do with student achievement, or trying to move the district forward. And it seems every time we begin to make progress, especially for our African American and Black and brown students and minority students, something from the left comes up that begins to distract people from the true focus, that we are making progress every year, and our data shows that every year that I’ve been here, we’ve moved up and increased in proficiency in math and science. But also, we’ve decreased suspensions for our African American students.”

The Courier then asked Dr. Hamlet if he believed he was being targeted by local media because he is African American. Dr. Hamlet responded by saying other than Woodland Hills Superintendent James P. Harris, he is the only Black school superintendent in Allegheny County in a county/region with dozens of school districts. “But I’m always the one that’s being attacked and on the news about something. It’s never about anybody else, so if you put those facts together, it would lead you to believe I’m being targeted. Otherwise, why aren’t you having conversations with all the other 48 school districts that are in Allegheny County?”

Dr. Hamlet added: “This is an attempt to make me look bad for whatever reason. I’m not sure what their problem (KDKA) is with me, I think I’m doing my job pretty well and making progress in the district, so I’m not sure what the concern is, but to me, I liken it to a smear campaign…because you’re not leading with facts. And I’m the first one to tell you that if it’s facts, fact-based, talk about it. Don’t make it up.”

On the May 30 KDKA report about Dr. Hamlet not filing his financial statements, Lamb, during an on-camera interview with Sheehan, said that “we’ve taken the step of filing a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission, to alert them to this and for them to do a further investigation and review.”

The Courier obtained a copy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Ethics Complaint Form that individuals are to fill out to make a complaint.

On the form, it makes individuals aware of what’s termed the “Wrongful Use of the Act,” in which individuals should not disclose “publicly or causing to be publicly disclosed the fact that an individual is the subject of a complaint or Commission investigation.”

It’s unclear if Lamb violated that provision by publicly stating he filed a complaint against Dr. Hamlet with the Commission. However, sources confirmed by the Courier said that an ethics complaint could be filed against Lamb, “based on his specific violation of public disclosure of an ethics complaint.”

Dr. Hamlet told the Courier this isn’t the first time he felt he’s been the target of an attack in Pittsburgh. There were many, including some prominent names in Pittsburgh’s Black community, that voiced concerns about Dr. Hamlet being named superintendent in 2016. But, Dr. Hamlet told the Courier: “I came here with a purpose. I was called here for a specific reason, and until that reason is achieved, I will stay here and continue to thrive and make progress every year for the children and the stakeholders and families of PPS.”

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