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City School District Board To Vote On Renewing Superintendent’s Contract Months Ahead Of Deadline

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA

Four years after Superintendent Anthony Hamlet took the helm at Pittsburgh Public Schools, the school board is expected to vote Wednesday on whether he should lead the district through the 2025 school year.

The board has to make a decision by Feb. 1, 2021 -- 150 days before Hamlet’s current contract expires in June. District solicitor Ira Weiss said Monday he had advised the board to not discuss the contract renewal publicly, as it is a personnel matter. But he confirmed the board has discussed the matter several times in closed-door executive session.

“I think a majority of the board believes it is best to get this process completed, given the other challenges the board has in terms of returning to school,” he said.

One board member, Sala Udin, has repeatedly criticized Hamlet’s performance. Udin said the academic outcomes for Black students have changed very little during the last three years. In a letter published by the Post-Gazette, Udin said Hamlet has not earned a contract renewal.

“We’re about to repeat a huge mistake, from which [it] may take generations to recover,” Udin said in the letter.  

Nearly 150 people registered to speak at the board’s monthly public hearing. For three hours on Monday night, district staff read testimony on behalf of speakers during a virtual meeting. The board will hear from the remainder of speakers Tuesday at 1 p.m. It is expected to vote on a resolution to renew Hamlet’s contract on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

A few who submitted testimony, including former school board president Lynda Wrenn, asked the board to delay the vote until it can hear more community input.

Supporting Hamlet

Many who spoke on behalf of retaining Hamlet said he inherited a bad situation with overall low student proficinecy in many subjects.

Some recalled his introduction to the district. The district launched an investigation after media reports found that Hamlet’s resume contained discrepancies and overstatements about his previous positions in the Palm Beach County School District. The investigation confirmed the discrepancies highlighted in the media reports, but did not include recommendations. The board kept Hamlet on, and he was sworn in July 1, 2016. At the time, Hamlet called the investigation an “unintended distraction” and said he hoped the community could come together.

Kevin Reid said in his testimony Monday that the attacks on Hamlet were racially motivated. Hamlet is Black.

“Dr. Hamlet’s contract should be renewed based on his review, which I’m certain is outstanding,” Reid said.

District parent Kimberly Graves said she gives her wholehearted support to Hamlet’s renewal. She said that her oldest son graduated in the spring from Allderdice High School and her youngest completed the fifth grade.

Graves said she appreciated that Hamlet visited schools to get to know students. And as a parent of three African American males, she said, “It has been wonderful to see a distinguished and educated African American man lead my children’s education experience.”

She also praised Hamlet's handling of the coronavirus, which forced districts nationwide to begin at-home instruction this past spring. 

“I know that there were small bumps in the road, but given the short amount of time this [work packets sent home to students] had to be put in place, I believe [Hamlet] did a wonderful job,” she said.

Call for New Leadership

But many other speakers supported the newly-formed group Black Women For A Better Education, which has called for a new superintendent search. They say they need to see big changes in student outcomes. 

The women in the group say they haven’t seen the transformational change that Hamlet promised when he began in 2016. The group plans to run a slate of school board candidates in 2021.

Tracey Reed asked the board to vote against renewing Hamlet’s contract. She called his response to statewide school closures in the spring “abysmal” and said there has been insufficient academic progress for Black children during his tenure.

“If you believe that Black children can achieve academically, if you believe they are not inherently less able than white children, if you believe that they are talented and brilliant, which I do with my whole heart, you cannot possibly see the progress made in the last four years as adequate,” Reed said.

Elaine Vitone, a parent of a Liberty K-5 student, made similar points in her testimony. Put simply, she said, “We have had enough, and our children deserve better.”