Pittsburgh's superintendent scandal could hurt education discourse | Blogh

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pittsburgh's superintendent scandal could hurt education discourse

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 12:35 PM

click to enlarge Anthony Hamlet at the June 7 press conference - PHOTO BY REBECCA NUTTALL
Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
Anthony Hamlet at the June 7 press conference
As a reporter who has covered education in Pittsburgh for nearly eight years, I was disheartened last week to hear that Pittsburgh's newest superintendent Anthony Hamlet was being scrutinized for discrepancies in his resume.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette story about the discrepancies was one of the first things I read this past Saturday after returning from my honeymoon at a resort with spotty WiFi. It filled me with anxiety before my looming return to work on Monday. Not because the prospect of a 9-to-5 work week seems less than appealing to anyone after 10 days off, or even because Mondays are the busiest days here at City Paper, but because I had been looking forward to a fresh start on the education beat.

Hamlet was presented to the public on May 18 and approved by the Pittsburgh Public School Board that same evening. In a statement from the district following the board's vote, Hamlet was defined as a "transformational leader." At the May 18 press conference, search consultant Brian Perkins touted Hamlet's record of raising achievement at struggling schools as director of school-transformation accountability in the Palm Beach County's (Fla.) school district.

“It was critical for us that we had somebody that had improved achievement for a diverse population of students,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Director Regina Holley.

Perkins called the search process a "textbook" example of how to ensure that input from various community stakeholders is included in the selection process. It appeared Hamlet checked off all the requirements that make up a quality pick for superintendent. 

"The call for applications was a very specific one. We weren't looking for hundreds of applications," said Perkins. "We said we wanted someone who has teaching experience. We said we wanted someone who has been a principal." 

His selection was also praised by local leaders like Mayor Bill Peduto and the teacher's union.

"Dr. Hamlet brings a tremendous wealth and diversity of experience to our district, and the PFT whole-heartedly welcomes him," Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visigitis said in a statement. "It was wonderful to hear him speak to the primary importance of a positive and supportive school culture, and we look forward to working with him, and introducing him to the great work of our teachers, our students and our union."

But since then, the details Hamlet listed on his resume to bolster his record have been called into question. A June 3 article by the Palm Beach Post criticized Hamlet's assertions that he raised the grades at two struggling Palm Beach County schools from an F to a C, and raised the graduation rate at Palm Beach Lakes High School by 13 percentage points.

At a press conferences today, Hamlet admitted to making an error when he said he raised the two school's grades from an F to a C. But he said the other numbers he used as evidence of his accomplishments were taken from different data sets than those used by federal and state education agencies. (Data from the Florida education department and federal graduation rates do not align with Hamlet's assertions, according to the Post-Gazette and Palm Beach Post).

"It is unfortunate that we have begun this way," Hamlet said. "But I believe today, having answered these questions, I look forward to working with the board, schools, community, families and, more importantly, the students to continue some of the great work already taking place in the district."

Whether or not  Hamlet knowingly embellished his resume, it's possible the damage has already been done. 

All too often, discussions about education in Pittsburgh and around the country amount to little more than playing politics, and missteps are not quickly forgotten.

I'm afraid that now, anytime someone disagrees with a proposal by Hamlet's administration, they'll use this situation as undeniable proof that he is wrong instead of having a discussion about the merits of a proposal or alternative solutions to the district's problems.  

We've seen it happen before. All too often, the proposals and decisions made by Superintendent Linda Lane weren't evaluated based on their content. Instead they were criticized because Lane was seen as a continuation of the old guard started by former Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. When Lane was selected, many in the Pittsburgh community clamored for a superintendent from outside of the district. Lane's inclusion in the Roosevelt administration led many to write off her initiatives before an adequate discussion could take place.

Hamlet's selection was refreshing because he was supported by nearly every key stakeholder in the education community . For the sake of education discourse in this city and the success of Pittsburgh's public school students, I hope this pothole in Hamlet's tenure doesn't dictate his next five years with the district. 

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