Outgoing Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent says he was a man on a mission—and mission accomplished
Listen to the Courier exclusive interview with Dr. Anthony Hamlet in video below…
by Rob Taylor Jr. – Courier Staff Writer
Anthony Hamlet, Ed.D., in an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier on Tuesday, Sept. 28, said he was a man on a mission—to improve student achievement and decrease disparities in minority students’ achievement.
“We’ve done that work,” Dr. Hamlet said. “We’ve set the district up in a way that if that focus continues, then that work will continue. Every academic area over the last five years, we’ve increased. We’ve increased our graduation rates, especially for African American males, but females as well. We’ve also drastically reduced the number of out-of-school suspensions, the number of citations and arrests for our African American students and all of our students. For me, it’s about performance.”
On Oct. 1, Dr. Hamlet will officially resign as superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, the second-largest school district in Pennsylvania, nestled in a region that’s all about education.
One would have thought Dr. Hamlet was the President of the United States, with so many people approving of the job he’s done as PPS leader, and others blatantly expressing their disapproval of the former University of Miami football standout.
But no matter what people thought, Dr. Hamlet reiterated to the Courier that his focus was always on the students, and what was best for them.
In what could be called an “exit interview,” Dr. Hamlet spoke openly with the Courier on topics ranging from his accomplishments during his five-year reign as PPS superintendent, to how Pittsburgh, as a city, feels about having a Black superintendent, to his ultimate message to the 20,000 or so students that call Pittsburgh Public Schools home.
Under Dr. Hamlet’s tenure, graduation rates for African American students increased each year from 2015 to 2019; the percentage number of students in grades 3 through 8 who performed “Below Basic” in Science decreased by double digits from 2015 to 2019; and the percent of African American students who scored “proficient or advanced” increased on 8 of 14 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams in 2019.
ANTHONY HAMLET, ED.D., greeting PPS students. (Photo courtesy PublicSource)
Dr. Hamlet also touted the creation of a new Career and Technical Education Early Childhood Program that was created at Pittsburgh Milliones, the acquisition of a $75,000 grant from Google to Pittsburgh Obama 6-12 for technological improvements for its STEM program, and the addition of Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions (PBIS) in every school.
Still, Dr. Hamlet told the Courier in his candid manner that in public education, people aren’t always focused on what’s best for the students.
“Are we making an adult-centered decision or are we making a student-centered decision?” is what Dr. Hamlet said he would always ask his staff. “All our decisions in public education should be around students, what’s best for students, and supporting the faculty and staff and getting the requisite skills and resources that they need to make it happen for the children in the classroom.”
Dr. Hamlet said that there wasn’t any one person or group that wasn’t making decisions based on what’s best for the students, “but it’s about the system itself and how it’s designed.”
That’s why Dr. Hamlet was adamant in creating a Student Advisory Council, where students had a direct pipeline to the superintendent. “Ultimately, if we’re not having the students’ voice in mind and what their needs are and their feelings, then we’re missing what we’re doing in public education. And all too often, that is removed,” he told the Courier.
Other accomplishments Dr. Hamlet touted were the drastic reduction in out-of-school suspensions for primarily African American students, and eliminating Kindergarten through second grade suspensions for non-violent offenses, one of the many recommendations given to the district by the Council of the Great City Schools. Nearly 140 recommendations were given in all; about 95 of them had been completed prior to the pandemic, Dr. Hamlet said.
Dr. Hamlet was then asked if he felt there were people or organizations that tried to damage his professional reputation. He replied:
“Absolutely, and it’s very clear the intent, from the very time I came here, there were issues. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had its report, and made-up stories about me about plagiarism, (saying I had) wrong data on my resume, which all came out to be not true, but of course you don’t hear that it’s not true, you just hear these headlines, and that’s what begins to resonate in people’s minds.”
Dr. Hamlet continued: “Also, one of the biggest ones is Andy Sheehan of KDKA (TV). It’s a very clear pattern of racist reporting when it comes to Dr. Hamlet out of Andy Sheehan’s mouth. There are several reports that he’s done that are completely false and defamatory and libelous in nature.”
The Courier then asked Dr. Hamlet if Pittsburgh, in general, is ready to have a longtime Black superintendent. There have only been three full-time African American city schools superintendents—John Thompson, Linda Lane and Dr. Hamlet. Dr. Hamlet replied: “It’s a problem. It’s a problem. Why can’t Pittsburgh Public Schools get an African American male superintendent in a place of longevity to support the system?”
Dr. Hamlet said he believes some politicians have “budget envy,” and because PPS has a large budget of $700 million, even though much of it is non-discretionary, “still it’s that large number, that $700 million is in control of those (Black) individuals, and that becomes a problem for some.”
Dr. Hamlet said that he intends to assist the interim superintendent when one is appointed on Sept. 29 during the school board’s legislative meeting. “Although I’ll be removed from my role, my focus will still be on the success of Pittsburgh Public Schools in any way I can assist,” he told the Courier.
When Dr. Hamlet began his run as superintendent in July 2016, he began his “Look, Listen & Learn” tour, where he engaged with over 3,500 constituents, met with a plethora of faculty, students and support staff, and then implemented a five-year strategic plan to make PPS a better place for all.
He said he’ll be remaining in the Pittsburgh area for at least the next three months, as he looks forward to his next step in his professional career. But he told the Courier that he was wholly invested in the students at PPS, and supports have been put in place to ensure an upward trajectory for them.
“Students of PPS, do not lose faith,” Dr. Hamlet told the Courier. “Do not lose hope in the public school system. The system is changing and evolving and will continue. We left a team of individuals who understand what the needs are, understand the changes and understand the push that needs to come as a result. And they understand that there will be pushback; but they are built and designed to push through to create better outcomes for our students. And ultimately for us, it’s about students.”
Dr. Hamlet added: “Are we making student-centered decisions or are we making adult-centered decisions? Ultimately, we should be in this business to do what’s best for children.”