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Education

Longtime school leader Wayne Walters will lead city schools while search for permanent replacement unfolds

Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education Oakland (4).jpg
Ashton Jones
/
90.5 WESA

Wayne Walters, a longtime school leader and former teacher, will lead the state’s second-largest district until a search to permanently fill the position begins in December.

“Dr. Walters is no stranger to us," said board president Sylvia Wilson. "We know firsthand that his commitment to Pittsburgh Public Schools and the City of Pittsburgh is unwavering." And she lauded him for “assuming this responsibility at a time when the District needed stabilization and healing."

Walters replaces superintendent Anthony Hamlet, whose tenure ends this week. Hamlet resigned earlier this month after the state’s Ethics Commission released a report that found he violated the ethics law by improperly accepting travel reimbursements and honorariums for appearances. Hamlet repaid the district but called the situation a distraction that he wanted the district to move past.

"When there’s an opportunity to serve, I want to step up," said Walters. "Children’s lives are on the line, and we need to elevate the quality of teaching and accelerate learning for all students."

The board unanimously approved the appointment, which lasts for one year or until a permanent superintendent begins work, during a Wednesday legislative session. But it will wait to begin a search for a permanent replacement until new board members are sworn in. Two seats are contested and will be determined by the Nov. 2 election.

In the meantime, when Walters takes the reins next week, he will inherit a district whose operations have been taxed by the coronavirus and staffing shortages. The district continues to struggle to find transportation to get all kids to school, faces a looming budget shortfall and is working to make sure all students have technology in case a coronavirus outbreak requires a shift to remote learning.

But many district insiders and observers have been hoping he would take the post. Walters, a current assistant superintendent, reported to Hamlet’s executive cabinet but has roots in the district that extend decades before Hamlet arrived to Pittsburgh.

Wayne Walters Pittsburgh Public Schools

Interim Leader

Walters began his career with the city schools in 1991 as a teacher at King Elementary School on the North Side. He went on to be the principal of Northview Heights Elementary School and the Frick International Studies Academy.

Walters was the first principal of the Barack Obama Academy of International Students 6-12 when it opened in the former Peabody High School building in East Liberty in 2009.

In 2017 Walters was appointed Superintendent of Professional Development and Special Programming to “ensure the district impacts student outcomes by increasing teacher knowledge through a cohesive system of instructional support,” according to a district release.

A native of the Virgin Islands, Walters came to Pittsburgh at the age of 16 to study music at Carnegie Mellon University. According to a district biography, he later received he a Masters’ degree in Music Education/Technology from Duquesne University; and a Doctor of Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

A district release noted that Walters is known for leading professional development as a certified trainer and facilitator, and his previous post stems from a decision early in Hamlet’s tenure to commission a comprehensive evaluation of the district by the Council of Great City Schools. The report highlighted the district’s lack of professional development.

Calls for transparency

Though the search for a permanent superintendent will not begin until this winter, a coalition of education advocates has already asked the board for a transparent search process for the permanent position. Earlier this week, nearly 200 signed a statement composed by Black Women For A Better Education asking for transparency. BW4BE formed in response to what its founders called the district’s slow and inadequate move to remote learning in 2020. The group called for the board to not renew Hamlet’s contract last year. When the board did approve a new contract, BW4BE formed a political action committee and ran a slate of school board candidates.

Incumbent Sala Udin and newcomers Gene Walker and Tracey Reed won the primary elections. Walker and Reed will again challenge incumbents Veronica Edwards and Terry Kennedy -- who will appear on the ballot as Republicans -- in the November election.

The group has asked the district to form a committee of diverse families and stakeholders to collaborate with the board while writing a job description and during the search process. And it said the next superintendent should meet requirements that include:

- Success in overcoming achievement gaps and recognizing historical inequities in public education

- Ethical decision making

- Fiscal responsibility

- Transparency

- Fairness in hiring and promotion decisions

- Success in collaborating with board members and stakeholders

- Success in educating complex learning

“A majority of PPS students are Black and Brown and this District has for years failed in its obligation to educate all of its students at a high level,” the BW4BE statement read. “We need a leader with a plan to both close gaps in opportunities and outcomes and attract new families to Pittsburgh schools through a competent administration and stewardship of our abundant resources.”