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Parents, students urge city school board to make interim leader the permanent superintendent

Ashton Jones
90.5 WESA

In the midst of a national search for the next Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent, a handful of people asked the school board this week to hire a candidate close to home.

Seven speakers during the board’s monthly public hearing voiced their support for hiring Wayne Walters, who led the district in an interim capacity this year.

The district has not released the names of candidates for the post, so it's not certain Walters is seeking it. But he has worked in the district for more than 30 years as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. Last August, he agreed to run the district for a year after former superintendent Anthony Hamlet stepped down. (Shortly after the board renewed Hamlet’s contract for five years, an investigation found that he violated state ethics rules by accepting improper travel reimbursements.)

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Obama Academy teacher and parent of two PPS students, Barak Naveh, said the district is at a crossroads.

“We need someone who knows what it is like to be a teacher and administrator in this district," he said. "[Walters] knows this district inside and out and will always be transparent and well-intentioned. He is the right candidate in every way, and it is my hope that we don’t miss this opportunity just because the ideal candidate is already part of our district.”

Naveh worked under Walters when he oversaw Obama as principal until being promoted in 2017.

Obama Academy students who graduated this past weekend also spoke in support of hiring Walters. Dylan Shapiro described Walters as an “immensely kind, intelligent and charismatic man,” who cares about students.

“Dr. Walters knows the district. He knows the people in the district," Shapiro said. "He will push this district towards greatness, just as he’s pushed me and every student he’s ever known. I urge every single member of the board to vote to give Dr. Walters the position he needs to enact the real, transformative changes that we need to see."

Aastha Singh echoed those praises. She was the valedictorian of Obama’s 2022 class and said that during her senior year, Walters provided stability and progress as the district recovered from Hamlet's departure and a full year of remote learning.

“He’s a widely beloved figure for his commitment to the district," she said. Noting that the board had unanimously appointed him as interim superintendent, she added, "You all believe that he is clearly capable and qualified as well."

Parent Angela Eagle said that Walters has proven over the last year that he has the qualities of a successful superintendent.

“I have noticed changes for the better over this past year and I believe some of these changes are a result of parental input. Dr. Walters listens and is present in the daily activities of the district,” she said. “With this attention to details, he is able to make the best decisions for PPS.”

Education advocacy group A+ Schools recently asked its mailing list of 9,000 people what they wanted from the district’s next superintendent.

“The big takeaway for me is that people want a superintendent who can hit the ground running, who can address the coming challenges, and who will focus on creating a great educational experience for students,” said James Fogarty, the group's executive director.

The board has said it wants to make a hire before the next school year begins in August. Board President Sala Udin said on Monday that there won’t be any further updates on the search until the board has made its choice. At the end of Monday’s hearing, Udin thanked speakers for their input: The district, he said, is “in a very serious and pivotal moment in our history.”