ShareThis Page

Choice on Gateway equity director post defended

Dillon Carr
| Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, 2:24 p.m.
Phillip Woods, the Gateway School District's equity director.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Phillip Woods, the Gateway School District's equity director.

An official is defending moves that many are criticizing for failing to do enough to improve educational opportunities for black students who are lagging behind their white counterparts in the Gateway School District.

At the center of the controversy is the hiring of an equity director whose job it is to help close the achievement gap in the district by working with students, parents and faculty outside of the classroom. While the hiring would seem a step in the right direction, it drew threats of a lawsuit from the NAACP and strong criticism from residents because the school board chose only to make the post part-time.

“It's a win-win for everyone,” district Human Resources Director Patricia Crump said. “It saves the district money so we can divert it to the students and get the program started.”

Local NAACP Director Kenneth Huston and others didn't see it as a “win-win.” Huston said what he sees is the district's lack of interest in eliminating the achievement gap.

“There's a strong opposition by school administration to not have equity,” Huston said recently. “They don't believe there's a gap. Period.”

Bob Elms of Monroeville — a resident who has been vocal about the issue at school board meetings — said the hiring of Phillip Woods as part-time equity director fell short.

“It's a win because they're not going to spend the money, but it's not the right way to go,” said Elms, who is white and has a daughter at Gateway High School.

A committee formed to study the achievement gap in its final report had recommended to the school board the hiring of a full-time director at a salary of $125,000 a year. But school board member Mary Beth Cirucci, who was on the committee, said that was out of line.

“I have not found one public school, private school or even college that pays more than $100,000 (for an equity director), let alone the $125,000 that some were suggesting,” she said.

Board member Steve O'Donnell, chairman of the committee, said inclusion of the full-time salary recommendation in the group's final report was a mistake.

“It was a clerical error. That was not part of it. The committee never recommended a full-time equity director,” O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell and Cirucci were the only two board members who voted against interviewing for a full-time director in May. In August, the board voted 7-2 — with Chad Stubenbort and Neal Nola opposed — to hire a part-time equity director because the school officials said “no qualified full-time candidates have been identified to date.”

That reasoning surprised Woods, who has a doctorate in education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Woods — who kept his full-time job as an administrator in the West Mifflin School District — wonders about the decision to make his Gateway position part-time.

“I applied for full time,” he said. “When I interviewed, I interviewed for a full-time position. I was gung-ho for the full-time job.”

Rick McIntyre, who earned Democratic and Republican nominations for a school board seat and will likely be elected in November, said the board's pilot program is inadequate to fix the problem of blacks performing at significantly lower levels than whites.

The district expects to spend $135,000 on the achievement gap pilot program, including funding for the director, consultants, coaches and tutors.

McIntyre, who is white and has one child attending Gateway schools, made closing the achievement gap a focus of his election campaign in the May primary.

“A full-time director was where my heart was at. And then district-wide implementation,” he said, adding he doubts Woods will have enough time to devote to closing the gap as a part-timer.

Woods believes he may have planted the seed for hiring a part-timer when he interviewed with the hiring team in the spring and summer. He said he suggested that they consider hiring a consultant to help them determine whether they wanted the achievement gap program to be in two buildings or district-wide at its inception.

But he didn't think that suggestion would lead where it led.

“I don't understand how someone interviewing can change the whole course or premise of the job description,” he said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.