Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Can Anthony Hamlet Fix Pittsburgh Public Schools?

The superintendent, and former NFL player, is using a new school of thought to change legacy problems.



(page 2 of 2)


 

The Controversy

 Within weeks of the school board’s announcement to hire Hamlet, the floor fell out when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Hamlet had misstated the achievement gains and graduation rates of schools he oversaw in Florida and listed as his educational philosophy wording from a 2015 Washington Post editorial, prompting accusations of plagiarism. The board hired a former state prosecutor to investigate. A month later, the investigation concluded that there were discrepancies in Hamlet’s resume but did not recommend a specific action for the school board to take. As for the plagiarism, the report showed Hamlet said he did not intend to plagiarize. The board moved forward in swearing in Hamlet.

Hamlet no longer talks about the controversy, and even those who opposed him at the time, including school board members Terry Kennedy and Sala Udin, now support him.

Udin says his initial opposition is “ancient history.”

Kennedy, who had made a motion to rescind Hamlet’s contract, says she was impressed by Hamlet’s “true leadership” when he canceled a personal trip in February 2017 to stay in town during a city water contamination issue that threatened the water supply to many of the district’s schools.

Holley says she saw a strength in Hamlet during, and immediately after, the controversy as he continued to visit schools and appear in public, marching in the African-American Heritage Day and Labor Day parades.

“Whatever was out there, he was still doing this for the kids. He visited schools and was out in the community. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to do that, but he soldiered through it,” Holley says.
 


During that challenging time, Hamlet says he remained focused on what he came to Pittsburgh to do — make a difference for students.

On the wall in his office is a metal sculpture that reads, “Strength in my soul,” from Psalm 138:3. That, along with another favorite Bible verse from Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper,” helps to guide him, he says.

Boots on the ground.  Hamlet, who lives Downtown, kicked off his superintendency with a “Look, Listen and Learn” tour of the district’s 54 schools and community meetings around the district.

April Payne, who has three children in Pittsburgh schools and sits on various district committees, describes Hamlet as a superintendent who is “down to earth” and who “listens and pays attention.”

“So far, he’s working his butt off. I’m hoping he’s going to follow through. Everything he says he is going to do is awesome and great,” says Payne, who lives in East Hills.

Cynthia-Grace Devine-Kepner, a parent from Brookline who also serves on various committees, including the Parent Advisory Council, says she believes the district under Hamlet is more responsive to and inclusive of parents. She pointed to the decision to spend $1.2 million to add a nurse to every school campus after parents lobbied for it.
 


 

Making Progress

Hamlet likes to point out that his push already has moved the needle in some areas. He often shares the district’s successes in videos posted on the district website and social media sites.

Among the accomplishments, in addition to adding a nurse to each school, he notes: The district’s third-grade reading proficiency rate increased from 48 to 55 percent in his first year, though it is still below the state level of 65 percent. The increase is significant because the ability to read on grade level by third grade is a major predictor of future academic success.

A half-time librarian has been assigned to each elementary and middle school, giving students more access to libraries and teachers more time for planning and training together.

Teacher professional development has been increased to three full days and eight half days this year, up from three full days and two half days last year.

A new PreK-5 English language arts curriculum was implemented this year with plans to introduce a new math curriculum in those grades next year. Along with the new curriculum, all schools with grades K-5 received additional, upgraded computers.

Restorative practices training, which had been rolled out in phases in groups of schools in recent years, will be expanded to every school in the district by 2018-19. Training in positive behavioral interventions and supports started in all schools this year.

The school board in December approved a policy banning suspensions for non-violent student offenders in grades K-2, though some board members felt the vote was premature and the district’s administrators association had asked for a delay.

Suspensions are down by 28 percent from 2015-16 to 2016-17 based on data the district submitted to the state Department of Education. But the rate at which black students are suspended remains steady and disproportionate. Black students accounted for 77 percent of suspensions in 2015-16 and 79 percent in 2016-17, while they make up 53 percent of the student population.
 


 

Persistent problems

Hamlet knows that despite his intensity, some accomplishments don’t occur as quickly as he would like.

According to the 2017 District Performance Results report to the school board, achievement among many student groups remains below state averages, the racial achievement gap in all subjects is still glaring and only seven of the district’s 50 schools that receive scores got a passing state School Performance Profile score of 70 or above. SPP scores range from zero to 100, with a possible seven bonus points.

Some school staff also appear to be struggling to use the new Performance Matters assessment system, the basis for the individualized education Hamlet wants. The goal of the system is to analyze how each student’s performance compares to state standards of proficiency in math, English and science. Once teachers can make that assessment, they are charged with tailoring the lessons to what each student needs to meet proficiency. During a teacher feedback session at Allderdice High School in December, some faculty questioned how they would have time for assessment and data analysis given the number of students they teach and the limits of a 40-some minute class period.

A public dashboard to track key performance indicators in the district was to go live at the start of this school year but still is not up and running, though Hamlet hopes to unveil it this spring.

Despite obstacles, Hamlet remains resolute in his belief that he can move his agenda forward. He’s confident the district technology staff can make fixes to the Performance Matters platform to address teacher and principal struggles, though he suspects some of the complaints emanate from resistance.

“It’s a new way of work for some people,” Hamlet says.

In his second year, Hamlet continues to spend time in the schools by attending instructional reviews and building activities and delivering “employee of the month” honors to recipients.

Holley believes Hamlet has spent more time in the schools than any other Pittsburgh superintendent she’s known.

In December, Hamlet toured Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy 6-12, a previously planned trip that ended up occurring the day after a 17-year-old student was shot and critically wounded while on his way to school. The superintendent spent about an hour interacting with the students, hoping to exude a sense of calm. Hamlet spoke of the difficulties of making students feel safe while also convincing them to tell school officials if they learn of trouble brewing on the streets.

“We also try to change the narrative about snitching. We tell them, ‘Let us know so we can intervene. So kids aren’t getting shot. Let us know if kids are having a beef with other kids,’” he says.
 


 

Challenges

On a school visit to Pittsburgh Montessori PreK-5, Hamlet again made a point of interacting with students. This time he sat in a kindergarten-sized chair where he chatted with three girls.

It was giggles galore from the pint-sized pupils as they watched Hamlet squeeze into the chair and tower over the table as he asked them about their work practicing letters.

Hamlet was at Montessori for an instructional review, a process through which school leaders and central administrators review the school’s academic performance and other targets. Leaders at schools where academic achievement is lagging present their plans for improvement.

But at Montessori, Principal Kellie Meyer had good news to report. Her building’s School Performance Profile score had jumped seven points to 75.1 and its science proficiency rates increased nearly 17 percentage points to 80.56 — the highest in the district. Even more impressive, the science scores among black students increased from 16.7 percent to 60 percent.

The time for kudos, however, was minimal. Hamlet reminded Meyer of the district’s continuous improvement process.

“We’ve now given her the challenge to move it even higher,” he says.

Meyer says while Hamlet is demanding in his quest for educators to improve academic achievement and that teachers have at times felt “a little bit” overwhelmed, he is also responsive when principals state their needs. “We were talking about needing a math interventionist. Next thing I know there was a call from HR and it was done,” she says.

Pittsburgh West Liberty K-5 Principal Deonne Arrington says she has noticed a higher level of communication between the central administration and the schools under Hamlet. School staff often gets emails asking for feedback on district issues. “If I say something is not working, I may get a phone call.”

Arrington says her staff is, at times, overwhelmed with the multiple major initiatives launched this year.

“To be truly honest, there are days where the teachers are really just stressed and they are wondering if we are focusing on the things that are really important. My teachers all agree that some of the changes that are happening are what we need, but it’s so many when you think about it,” Arrington says. “We all agree that it’s important, but how do we make everything fit in a school day?”

Hamlet appears to have the support of the school board in his efforts to enact major changes on multiple fronts at the same time:

“You have to set the bar high. If you don’t, then what are you doing?” Cynthia Falls says.

Listing the components of the plan — the new data system, restorative practices, positive behavior intervention supports — she says: “There’s nothing that anyone can cut through and find something wrong in there.”

Udin says he recognizes the challenges in implementing the changes, but that the need is great. “There is a kind of a state of emergency in terms of the education of black and brown and poor kids in the public school system.”

Kevin Carter says he especially appreciates Hamlet’s interactions with students. “He’s one of the first superintendents in a long time who can have this natural charisma with students in a way they can understand and appreciate and feel inspired by,” Carter says.

He noted that Hamlet revived the student advisory council, which has been meeting and surveying students on issues important to them.

Council member Rebecca Kukushkin, a 17-year-old senior at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, says she’s grateful to have a voice. “I think it’s really awesome that Dr. Hamlet is giving us this opportunity because it is our education,” she says.

Holley says in addition to his efforts within the district, Hamlet makes frequent trips to Harrisburg and has built relationships with legislators. One of those legislators, Jake Wheatley, a Democrat from the Hill District, says he believes Hamlet, with community support, will be able to make the changes he seeks in the district.

“With this new vision, this new plan, if we give it a chance and we all put our best foot forward, I actually do believe we could make this a model,” Wheatley says.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in July

Lidia Bastianich Shares Her American Dream in a New Memoir

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein talks to the celebrated chef, restauranteur, television host and author about grandparents, foraging and the plight of refugees seeking a better life in the United States.

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

The Homestead Artist with a Worldwide Reputation

Jesse Best maintains a presence in New York and Tokyo. But, he says, Pittsburgh has been 10 times better to him than any other place.

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Sprout Fund Passes the Torch

50 Pittsburghers to receive $1,000 Legacy Award to carry on the nonprofit’s vision.

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Pirates Pitcher Steven Brault has Pretty Good Pipes Too

The Pirates reliever sang the national anthem Tuesday night before the Bucs hosted the Brewers at PNC Park. It's worth watching, especially for his teammates' reaction at the end.

Crime in the South Side Has Fallen Dramatically

Illegal activity plunged along East Carson Street following several new security measures.

Fired by City Paper — Charlie Deitch Won’t Be Silenced

The former editor of the Pittsburgh alt-weekly is creating his own "more inclusive" publication.

Czechoslovakia was Forged in Pittsburgh

Rick Sebak details how the establishment of the European nation began with a meeting Downtown.

Brick by Brick: Legos Go High Art

Made entirely out of Legos, the sculptures on the display at the Carnegie Science Center’s new Scaife Exhibit Gallery range from the whimsical to the otherworldly.

Mike Chen, Dean of the Chinese Kitchen

The owner of Everyday Noodles looks to encourage more regionally specific Chinese food in Pittsburgh restaurants.

MultiStories: Real Estate – The Machesney Building

Visitors can still ogle the lavish marble and bronze interior crafted to appeal to the original owner's banker and stockbroker tenants.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

Comments

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

Reflecting on the loss of a person so many of us admired.

Comments

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Chef You Shan Pei comes to Pittsburgh after cooking in Flushing, N.Y. restaurants for 18 years.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

Looking to show off your Pittsburgh love? Get your favorite city printed on basically anything at these local shops.

Comments

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

When you're craving the real deal, these local spots consistently churn out the very best.

Comments


The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

In "Will Work For Views," the video artist and musician Weird Paul is a little bit Dr. Demento and a little bit Mister Rogers.

Comments

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

The relaunched entertainment complex in Harmarville is casting a wide net, with some success.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Comments

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk found out last August, in the wake of a six-hour surgery that removed 14 inches of his colon and “a tumor the size of my fist,” the severity of what he was suddenly confronting.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary about Fred Rogers' work and philosophy inspires even more wonder about the television legend who called Pittsburgh home.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Toppers That Take the Cake

Toppers That Take the Cake

Over the traditional bride and groom standing on top of your cake? Try some of these different ideas for cake toppers.

Comments

Couple Shares Photo Spotlight With Four-Legged Friends

Couple Shares Photo Spotlight With Four-Legged Friends

This Pittsburgh couple is using their engagement photos to raise awareness about one of their most passionate causes.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

Paying homage to the restorative power of nature, this deep green shade is one to watch in the coming year. Here’s how to use it on your walls.

Comments

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

From furniture to wall art and beyond, these local makers created one-of-a-kind pieces for your home or office.

Comments