Superintendent’s strategic plan showing promise; will stay as district leader until 2025
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, Ed.D., while running the second-largest school district in the state, has had to deal with his share of detractors.
Local television stations have plastered his face on the tube next to a series of investigations that, in effect, made him look unfit for the district’s highest position.
A group of 50 local Black women, called Black Women for a Better Education, in June called for Dr. Hamlet not to receive another term as superintendent, after calling Dr. Hamlet’s first term an “abject failure.”
Sala Udin, the longtime civil rights advocate and current PPS board member, vehemently rejected the notion of Dr. Hamlet receiving another term. Udin expressed his displeasure with Dr. Hamlet in a letter he sent to media members in mid-August, saying the Black student achievement was severely lacking.
IT’S FOUR MORE YEARS FOR HAMLET
School Board says, ‘Why wait?’ With contract not expiring until 2021,
board votes now to renew superintendent’s contract until 2025
But on Wednesday, Aug. 26, months before they were required to, the PPS board got together and gave Dr. Hamlet the ultimate vote of confidence—voting 7-2 to renew his contract for another four years. Dr. Hamlet, barring any unforeseen circumstances, will be superintendent until 2025.
The board members who voted to retain Dr. Hamlet were Pamela Harbin, Sylvia Wilson, Devon Taliaferro, Kevin Carter, Veronica Edwards, Terry Kennedy and Cynthia Falls. Those who voted “no” were Udin and Patrick Gallagher, who actually wanted the board to table the vote until a later date.
Dr. Hamlet’s original five-year contract expires on June 30, 2021, but now, district staff, parents, students and all affected parties know that Dr. Hamlet will be in charge for an additional four years.
Falls, in her remarks prior to her vote, said that the district has had nine superintendents in the last 30 years, and while unfortunate, the reality is that over the years, there’s been a gap in achievement between Black and White students in the district.
She rejected Udin’s claim that Dr. Hamlet should lose his position over a problem that hasn’t been cured by any superintendent in decades. Falls did say, however, that Dr. Hamlet’s strategic plan has yielded some positive, tangible results with Black students in the district, such as improved graduation rates and a big decrease in out-of-school suspensions. Falls believed that removing Dr. Hamlet would cause the district to have to “start over” with a new person, who would bring their own ideas. This would cause the momentum that Dr. Hamlet has started, to be halted.
“Over the past four years, progress has been made in the levels of Black student achievement,” Wilson, the board president, said before the vote. “…The levels of Black student achievement were low before Dr. Hamlet arrived….change and evolution takes time. Dr. Hamlet did not bring his magic wand to accomplish this.”
Wilson then said that while “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” there were “no outcries when previous superintendents destroyed achievement goals of students of color during their tenures.”
Wilson lauded more accomplishments spearheaded by Dr. Hamlet, including having a nurse on every campus, additional social workers and counselors, an expansion of the Career and Technical Education programs, a student group speaking directly with Dr. Hamlet on issues, “community schools” being expanded, and bettering relationships with the board and other figures.
Wilson said the board decided to make their decision on Dr. Hamlet sooner rather than later because, with COVID-19 affecting schools across the country, “The district is making every effort to move forward in a difficult time that was not created by us.”
Also, “We have several other considerations to resolve that impacts educating our children that must be resolved, such as collective bargaining agreements that have expired, others that will expire soon and our financial future is worrisome,” Wilson said. “We need to maintain stability at this time so that the critical work can be accomplished.”
What’s absolutely certain is Dr. Hamlet is the first PPS superintendent who’s had to deal with a global pandemic…or at least the first superintendent in the past 100 years. Dr. Hamlet and his team had to essentially flip the district from in-school to remote instruction in a few weeks, when coronavirus originally forced schools to close in mid-March. Though there were some hiccups, Dr. Hamlet and his team found a way for the students to have classes from April to June online, while still giving the seniors an opportunity to graduate. Sure, there weren’t the usual show-stopping, family-friendly ceremonies of past years, but the district’s Class of 2020 were guaranteed laptops, and were able to finish the necessary courses to earn their diplomas.
Entering this school year, which will begin on Sept. 8, students have been picking up laptop computers at a number of schools, if needed. District officials believe the next nine weeks of remote instruction will go much more smoothly than in the spring.
Overall, the way the district handled the COVID-19 pandemic under Dr. Hamlet’s leadership, was applauded by the board.
“I want to thank the board for this vote of confidence,” Dr. Hamlet said in a prepared statement hours after the Aug. 26 vote. “And while the misdirected self-interest of a few attempted to take away from the progress we have made together, we are now able to move forward squarely focused on improving outcomes for our students. With only 35 Council of Great City Schools recommendations left to complete and the groundwork that has been laid with the initiatives of our Expect Great Things strategic plan, we have laid a strong foundation for the next five years.”
Dr. Hamlet’s contract renewal was something that wasn’t awarded to John Thompson, who, 20 years ago, became Pittsburgh’s first Black superintendent. Since Thompson, there have been Black superintendents, such as Linda Lane, but Dr. Hamlet was the first Black male superintendent since Thompson.
Because of Thompson’s rocky relationship with some during his tenure, and the lack of exuberance the board back then had with retaining him, some district-watchers believed that Dr. Hamlet always would have a target on his back, coming to Pittsburgh, as a Black male leader of the district. Also, Dr. Hamlet was coming in as a first-time superintendent.
But, among other factions, the Western Pa. Black Political Assembly had Dr. Hamlet’s back, not only last year, but in a letter to the media a few weeks ago.
“The most important question we must ask of any superintendent is: Are we making progress towards our ultimate goal? That goal is ALL children are making the academic progress necessary to be productive and successful adults. It is indisputable that under the leadership of Dr. Anthony Hamlet the answer is—YES,” the organization wrote, which appeared in the New Pittsburgh Courier in July.
“The success of the Pittsburgh Public Schools is inextricably linked to the success not only of this city, but our region. We know that many of our children are not reaching their academic potential. We know at times that there will be negative incidents in our schools, wrongdoing by school officials, and turnover in staff, but again the most important question remains. While there is still work to be done, the African American community is pleased with the progress toward all students achieving academic equity.”
“When I arrived at Pittsburgh Public Schools, to take on my first superintendence, I left Palm Beach County (Florida) intent on making Pittsburgh my home,” Dr. Hamlet said. “I understood the challenge ahead and the time it would take to truly transform the district for all students. I now have a heart for this city, its residents and most importantly, its children. And we now have the stability we need to ensure all students receive the high-quality education they deserve and that all graduate with a plan for their future and beyond.”