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Education

New Pittsburgh schools leader caught plagiarizing

| Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Anthony Hamlet, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, at the Pittsburgh Public Schools administration offices in Oakland on Tuesday, June 7, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Anthony Hamlet, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, at the Pittsburgh Public Schools administration offices in Oakland on Tuesday, June 7, 2016.

If Pittsburgh's new superintendent were a student, he could be facing a student-teacher conference and detention.

And he hasn't even had his first day of school.

Anthony Hamlet, who was hired by the nine-member Pittsburgh Public Schools board to replace Linda Lane on July 1, used words that were not his own without attribution on his resume and during his first news conference in Pittsburgh three weeks ago.

The district's code of conduct lists plagiarism among the most serious academic infractions.

“I'm curious to find out exactly what was his thinking in putting that in and not having it cited,” school board President Regina Holley said about the line in his resume. “We will be talking with him about this to see what was his thinking in doing this, but we certainly are not supportive of any student or adult making that kind of error.”

Hamlet did not respond to a request for comment.

“A successful superintendent has to satisfy many constituencies, keeping high achievers in the system while devoting resources to those who need them the most,” Hamlet wrote in his resume under a section labeled “educational philosophy.” That sentence appeared in a February 2015 Washington Post editorial about a superintendent in Maryland.

He read that line as part of his speech May 18, the day his candidacy for superintendent was announced.

During that speech, he described himself as a transformational leader “charged with identifying the needed change and creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration.” That is a verbatim definition of the term “transformational leadership” provided on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia entry cites BusinessDictionary.com as the original source.

Holley said the school board plans to meet with Hamlet on Monday — after the district's high school graduations and after Hamlet returns from Florida — to discuss the lack of attribution.

“We need to find out more about this issue, and we need to talk to him and talk to our attorney to make sure we are doing our due diligence for our students, for him and for the community,” Holley said.

“I'm just waiting to see if I discover anything else before leaping to a final judgment,” school board member Kevin Carter said. “Dr. Hamlet — it was of my belief — that he was the best for the job based on his interviews, resume, the whole shebang. You live and you learn.”

None of the other school board members responded to requests for comment.

Hamlet, 46, has come under scrutiny because school performance data he provided in his resume did not match data provided by the Florida Department of Education. Hamlet most recently was an administrator in the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida and served two years each as a high school principal and a middle school principal in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He called a news conference Tuesday to explain how he calculated numbers that showed he raised the two schools' grades, improved the graduation rate and significantly reduced suspensions.

Holley said the board was satisfied with his explanation but acknowledged he was not asked about the data during his interview.

Even though a portion of his educational philosophy contained someone else's words, Holley said the work Hamlet did in Florida is still the work she would like to see done in Pittsburgh.

“I just wish he had cited that person,” she said.

Plagiarism can be defined, generally, as a failure to cite sources when “using someone's thoughts or words that aren't your own,” said Chris Harrick, spokesman for Turnitin, an Oakland, Calif.-based education technology firm used by thousands of K-12 and higher education institutions to detect plagiarized work.

The sentence in Hamlet's resume that appeared in The Washington Post had 23 words; the phrase that appears to come from Wikipedia had 16.

“The chance of a human writing the same exact 14 words is pretty astronomical,” Harrick said.

But “people do make mistakes,” Harrick added.

“If this guy was under a lot of job pressures and stresses around his new role and was putting together a speech and was careless in the way that it was constructed over multiple drafts, these things do happen,” Harrick said. “It has to be looked at just not within those 14 words, but within the context of an entire pattern of behavior or career, or context in which the incident took place.”

Kathi Gundlach, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, defended Hamlet, but called the line pulled from The Washington Post “problematic.”

“When you look at anybody's life under a microscope like that, we all say things that maybe we've heard somewhere else and don't put into context,” Gundlach said.

But she also noted former West Boca Raton Community High School Principal Mark Stenner, whom the district demoted to a non-instructional position in July 2015 because they learned he had plagiarized parts of two commencement speeches in 2014 and 2015.

Hamlet was on the Employee Investigation Committee charged with recommending action against Stenner, according to school district records posted on the Palm Beach Post's website . The committee's report said Stenner “compromised his integrity as well as the integrity of the district as a whole.”

Elizabeth Behrman and Natasha Lindstrom are staff writers for the Tribune-Review. Reach Behrman at lbehrman@tribweb.com or Lindstrom at nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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