by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
Nobody ever had to ask Dr. Regina Holley to repeat or clarify her words.
“Let me make this perfectly clear,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Cynthia Falls, imitating Dr. Holley and her phrase that’s become synonymous with the decades-long educator. “Thank you for all that you have done, and you definitely will be missed.”
Dr. Holley was celebrated by Pittsburgh Public Schools on Nov. 20, 2019, during her last official legislative meeting after eight years on the school board, including multiple terms as board president. Her last official day as a District 2 board member was Dec. 2, 2019.
“You have worked tirelessly for the students, the parents, staff and communities in this wonderful district in the City of Pittsburgh,” Falls continued during the Nov. 20 meeting. “Your knowledge and your leadership will forever be felt.”
Throughout the decades, Dr. Holley built a reputation that every educator would dream of having—compassionate but tough, sweet but unwavering, with a record of success for students.
A Pittsburgh native, Dr. Holley graduated from Oliver High School, then earned her undergraduate degree from Slippery Rock University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.
She joined Pittsburgh Public Schools as a teacher at Carmault Elementary School, where she stayed for 13 years. Dr. Holley then became a supervisor for school improvement, followed by a reading supervisor. She then became vice principal of A. Leo Weil Elementary School in the Hill District, before becoming principal of Lincoln Elementary. She was principal at Lincoln for 16 years, ending in 2010.
The following year, Dr. Holley took the leap to the school board, “to go to the next level in terms of looking at policy,” she told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Nov. 20. “I was able to teach, I was able to manage a building and now I wanted to see what I could do in terms of writing policy to change the trajectory for our children.”
Not surprisingly, she was elected to the board given her record of success. Lincoln Elementary, Dr. Holley said, was the second-poorest school in the district from a financial perspective of the students and their parents. But, “we were one of the highest achieving schools in the district,” Dr. Holley said.
Dr. Holley acknowledged it wasn’t just her—she said she inherited a group of teachers and staff that all had one thing in common—“we wanted to see the children do well.”
Thus, Dr. Holley led the strategy in helping the majority-African American students at the school increase their test scores, reading and math proficiency, and their overall feelings of achievement.
“I had a really good parent component there, as well,” Dr. Holley told the Courier. “The community was very good to the children at Lincoln.
“Poverty does not keep you from making gains, and these children were able to do that,” Dr. Holley added.
One of Dr. Holley’s former teachers at Lincoln was Dr. Russell Patterson. In describing his former principal, he said: “Dr. Holley didn’t play. She went hard for the kids. She was an advocate for kids; her courage to stand up and say what people were thinking or what needed to be said to support the kids in an effort to improve achievement (was palpable).”
Dr. Patterson did his math internship at Lincoln while a student at the University of Pittsburgh, then was hired as a full-time teacher by Dr. Holley in 2002.
“She always holds people accountable for the work that needs to be done for kids,” Dr. Patterson said. Dr. Patterson is now principal of Pittsburgh Faison in Homewood.
Reflecting on her time on the school board, she told the Courier that most, if not all, of the policies she introduced or supported were affirmed, especially the district’s equity policy, referred to as “On Track to Equity: Integrating Equity Throughout PPS.”
“We are one of only two districts in the state of Pennsylvania that has an equity policy, and we were able to get our policy to the Council of Urban Boards of Education, and they’re using that as a blueprint as to how other districts across the country can write equity policies to support children,” Dr. Holley told the Courier.
“Equal doesn’t always mean equitable,” she added. “There are some children that need more than others, and it’s about the child’s needs, not what other people think should happen.”
Though she’s no longer a board member, Dr. Holley is adamant about the current board members making sure the plan for the equity policy is implemented by district administrators.
As school board president, Dr. Holley was at the helm when the district hired current superintendent Anthony Hamlet, Ed.D., in 2016. “She fought to make sure I came on board, because the board knew, based on the interview process, that they wanted change, and I talked about transformative change, and they believed in me,” Dr. Hamlet told the Courier. “She’s been a supporter, a champion for me since I arrived, but she is also focused, and is on me to get the work done, as well.”
Dr. Hamlet added that Dr. Holley is “always making sure she’s pushing the district to get better for our children.”
In a feature story on Dr. Holley by the district in February 2018, Dr. Holley was credited with raising two children, Ramon Creighton Sr. and Sade Creighton. Ramon Creighton Sr. graduated from Langley High School in 1996, and Sade Creighton from Perry Traditional Academy in 2003.
Though she decided to officially leave the school board, Dr. Holley said she’ll continue to mentor fellow educators and push Dr. Hamlet and other school administrators to effect positive change for students in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“My biggest thing that I would like for people to remember me for is my advocacy work for all children, especially those who are marginalized, which would be our special needs students and students of poverty and students of color,” Dr. Holley told the Courier. “I wanted to make sure that I worked on all of the policies in the district that would definitely service those children.”
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: DR. REGINA HOLLEY’S last day as a PPS School Board member was Dec. 2, 2019. She spent eight years on the board. Photo by J.L. Martello)