Superintendent supporters outnumber critics at Pittsburgh schools meeting
Supporters of Pittsburgh Public Schools' embattled incoming superintendent outnumbered his critics Monday and urged the Pittsburgh Public Schools board to stand by its pick despite plagiarism and apparently embellished data in his resume.
Dozens of residents spoke about the new superintendent at the school board's monthly public hearing, and a majority said they supported the decision to hire Anthony Hamlet and praised the process the board used to select him.
“There should be no apprehension about your decision,” said Thomas Young Jr., one of several speakers who represented the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. “Dr. Hamlet will be a powerful superintendent for our public schools.”
Hamlet, a former Florida administrator, was hired to replace outgoing Superintendent Linda Lane on July 1. The nine-member school board unanimously approved his five-year, $210,000 contract on May 18.
The board had contracted with Brian Perkins, a New Haven, Conn.-based consultant, to lead the national search for a new district leader and conduct community forums to collect input about what qualities Pittsburgh's next superintendent should have.
Perkins had never led a superintendent search but had worked on some. His $100,000 contract was not put out to bid, but that is not a requirement.
Hamlet's supporters praised his record working with under-performing schools.
Earlier this month, Hamlet conducted a news conference to discuss apparent embellishments about graduation rates, reductions in suspensions and improved school grades that he said occurred during his time as a principal in Palm Beach County, Fla.
It was revealed that he had copied a line about his “educational philosophy” without attribution from a 2015 Washington Post editorial. Hamlet recited without attribution the definition of “transformational leader” from Wikipedia during his first remarks to the community.
The Rev. Rodney Lyde, president of the interfaith network and pastor of Baptist Temple Church in Homewood, encouraged the school board to “hold the line” after members Lynda Wrenn and Terry Kennedy said they won't support Hamlet if the allegations about plagiarism are true.
“The only reset button you need to push is to go back to the time when you were unanimous in your agreement,” he said.
Lyde argued that Hamlet “appropriated” the line in his educational philosophy but did not plagiarize.
Last week, the board authorized an independent review of Hamlet's resume led by former state prosecutor Laurel Brandstetter. In a prepared statement at the start of Monday's four-hour meeting, board President Regina Holley said that investigation is nearly complete.
“We know there is urgency to complete this process, and we are doing everything we can to move quickly yet responsibly,” Holley said.
But those who urged the board to end Hamlet's contract and restart the superintendent search argued that more investigation is not a solution to what has become a “credibility problem” for Hamlet.
“More time spent deliberating only further tarnishes the reputations of Dr. Hamlet and the district,” said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, an education advocacy group.
The education advocacy organization joined three civil rights groups last week and called on the board to conduct the superintendent search anew with a firm that has experience in placing successful superintendents in urban school districts.
Cate Axtman, who has children in the district, encouraged the board to begin again.
“It is time for this board to move from reconsidering Dr. Hamlet's resume and take action,” she said.
Before the meeting, groups that supported and opposed Hamlet's hiring held rallies outside the district building in Oakland.
Representatives from Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Education Rights Network joined other groups in chanting their support for Hamlet while members of A+ Schools, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and the Hill District Education Council expressed their disappointment.
Esther Bush, president of the Urban League, said during the rally that she bears no ill will toward Hamlet.
“Let's put our children first and get a superintendent that is going to make a difference in their lives and that we can all embrace and be supportive of without question,” Bush said.
Sala Udin, co-chairman of the Hill District Education Council and a former Pittsburgh City Council member who encouraged the board to launch a new search, urged the speakers not to let their disagreement and name-calling spiral out of control.
Board supporters had claimed that the scrutiny of Hamlet was racist and that supporters of privatized education were attempting to usurp the power of the elected school board.
“Please don't conduct this debate in a way that makes us become enemies,” he said. “We both believe that our position is in the best interest of the children of Pittsburgh Public Schools.”
Elizabeth Behrman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com.