RICK ADAMS, co-convener of the Western Pa. Black Political Assembly, said on Sept. 7 that there is a “vicious effort” to undermine Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Black superintendent, Anthony Hamlet, Ed.D. He is calling on the school board not to listen to calls from some that Dr. Hamlet be removed from his position. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Group outraged at ‘vicious effort’ to undermine PPS superintendent
Whether he goes for a jog through Downtown Pittsburgh, spends countless hours at the Board of Education building in Oakland devising strategic plans to improve student outcomes, or steps outside to take out the trash, a group of Black leaders in Pittsburgh is downright tired of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, Ed.D., having a target on his back.
The issue at hand: A state Ethics Commission Report recently found that Dr. Hamlet violated the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act due to not filing financial documents properly, receiving payments for appearances, and being reimbursed for travel expenses.
The city’s school board released a statement stating its members had read the report, calling the findings “concerning and a distraction for the District as we commence the new school year.” The board’s statement also read in part that they would “consider any appropriate actions to be taken.”
PPS SUPERINTENDENT ANTHONY HAMLET, EdD
But some members of the Western Pa. Black Political Assembly stood in front of the Board of Education building Tuesday, Sept. 7, and demanded that the board take a chill pill; there should be no additional punishment for Dr. Hamlet, they said.
“To ask for a vote of ‘no confidence’ or removal is feeding into a broad-based political attack by privileged elements, establishment, and community groups who have hidden agendas,” Rick Adams, co-convener of the WPBPA, said at the press conference. “It reminds one of the similar attacks on previous Superintendent John Thompson, also an African American educator, which resulted in his departure (in 2005).”
Adams said his group could not sit back and watch as Dr. Hamlet continues to get lambasted in the media, in their opinion. Adams said there is a “gang of four” that are behind the “attempted railroading”—KDKA-TV investigative reporter Andy Sheehan, City Controller Michael Lamb, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, and Pittsburgh Public Schools Solicitor Ira Weiss. Together, they are creating a “rush to injustice” concerning Dr. Hamlet, Adams and his compadres said, which doesn’t happen with White city school superintendents.
MARK BRENTLEY, former PPS board member and current member of the Western Pa. Black Political Assembly: “Black people need heroes, too. We’re tired of seeing our heroes always on the front page, having to face some form of trumped-up charges…The question is, to the power structure, when will you allow us to educate our children? We love our children, too.” (Photos by Rob Taylor Jr.)
“I am here today for Dr. Hamlet, but this ain’t even about Dr. Hamlet,” voiced Mark Brentley, a former school board member and current member of the WPBPA. “This is about the process and the treatment of African Americans in education, and the lack of support that it receives from elected officials and everyone including the corporate community and foundations…I was here 15 years ago for John Thompson at this same spot, and years prior to that, I was here for Dr. Loretta Webb, who, as an African American, highly qualified, made it as a finalist, but it was the process of the White power structure putting power on the board saying, ‘No, no, no’ (there can’t be a Black superintendent).”
Brentley added: “It almost suggests as though any time someone (Black) attempts to come to this school board and begin to educate children, they’re kneecapped, and they’re undermined.”
Brentley said there’s a usual process that occurs—something detrimental about a Black superintendent is leaked to the local media, followed by a character assassination, “and then there’s the call—‘Oh, he’s bad, he’s a criminal, gotta go, gotta go.’ And then they discredit him and then he’s run out of here. At the same time, our children lose, due to the lack of consistency.”
LOUIS “HOP” KENDRICK, former New Pittsburgh Courier columnist and current member of the Western Pa. Black Political Assembly: “How far have we really come in this city? Are we the most racist city in America? I recall when we couldn’t work for KDKA, couldn’t work for the newspapers, weren’t welcome in certain churches…When I was in school, I never saw a Black teacher, never saw a Black janitor, never saw a Black cafeteria worker, in this city…so we need to ask ourselves, is racism driving this (calls for Superintendent Hamlet to be removed)?”
The Western Pa. Black Political Assembly pointed out that the state Ethics Commission did not call for a vote of no confidence or suggest that Dr. Hamlet be removed from his post. The commission merely called for adjustments to the financial reports. Thus, the board shouldn’t pile on with any thoughts of removing the superintendent.
“We don’t need to be changing superintendents,” said Rev. Johnnie Monroe, pastor emeritus of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church and WPBPA member. “The board needs to focus on how do we educate our children, that they may get a first-class, world-class education, and get out of the business of trying to micromanage the superintendent…the board needs to stand with him to ensure that our children get a decent education.”
It’s unclear when or if the school board will hold a vote of “no confidence” in Dr. Hamlet or discuss removing him from the superintendent position. But the board, with KDKA-TV’s reporting of Dr. Hamlet’s trips to Cuba and other perceived professional indiscretions front-and-center, voted 7-2 to renew his contract for another four years back in August 2020.
At the time, school board president Sylvia Wilson said that during Dr. Hamlet’s tenure, “progress has been made in the levels of Black student achievement…the levels of Black student achievement were low before Dr. Hamlet arrived…change and evolution takes time.”
“I want to thank the board for this vote of confidence,” Dr. Hamlet said at the time. “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.”
Adams, the co-convener of the WPBPA, told the Courier exclusively on Sept. 7 that Dr. Hamlet “has impressed me with his dedication and improving the academic achievement and quality of education for all the students in Pittsburgh Public Schools.”
Adams said that Sheehan, the KDKA-TV investigative reporter, should be terminated for his “unprofessional, inappropriate, and unsubstantiated personal and racist attacks” against Dr. Hamlet. “He makes these outrageous, inflammatory statements, and frankly, some of them I’ve interpreted, not just with Hamlet, as racist.”
Adams said Lamb, the city controller, violated Ethics Commission rules by publicly calling for an ethics investigation into Dr. Hamlet. Adams said Weiss, the PPS solicitor, was “derelict” in his duties for approving Dr. Hamlet’s contract and the two not being on the same page concerning what reimbursements the superintendent was permitted to obtain. Adams said Zappala, the DA, was wrong for announcing he would investigate Dr. Hamlet based off the commission’s findings, when the commission itself usually refers a request for criminal investigations to the DA first.
The commission never did.
“Nothing criminal has been charged (against Dr. Hamlet). Why is he (Zappala) volunteering to investigate? It sounded like a cheap shot to me,” Adams told the Courier exclusively.
“As a father, as a grandfather, and as a former student in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Black people need heroes, too,” added Brentley, the former school board member. “And we’re tired of seeing our heroes always on the front page, having to face some form of trumped-up charges…The question is, to the power structure, when will you allow us to educate our children? We love our children, too.”