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What Does Hamlet's Resignation Mean For Students?

Jared Murphy
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: James Fogarty with A+ Schools shares his thoughts on the resignation of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet; we look at how people on the autism spectrum struggle in the justice system, and what’s being done to make conditions better in Pennsylvania; and we speak to a STEM educator about how the state’s science education standards are being updated to address climate change.

With PPS superintendent on his way out, A+ Schools executive director says trust needs to be rebuilt
(0:00 - 6:32)

Anthony Hamlet resigned as Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, effective Oct. 1, after violating the state Ethics Act regarding travel expenses, failure to disclose financial interests and accepting money for speeches.

According to the district solicitor Ira Weiss, Hamlet is receiving a $400,000 severance package due to state law and his contract, which was renewed in August of last year.

“It’s never an easy thing to have a superintendent resign the second day of school,” says James Fogarty, executive director of A+ Schools, a nonprofit advocating for equity and improvement to Pittsburgh schools.

“There was obviously a lot swirling around and the families that we speak with were really just concerned about how they were going to get kids to school, whether schools were going to stay open, and these other questions around ethics certainly didn’t make that focus on those issues any easier,” says Fogarty.

Fogarty says trust needs to be rebuilt, starting with the district listening to families and students about what they need most urgently such as easing the transportation burden for families.

When it comes to hiring Hamlet’s replacement, Fogarty says the board should look for someone who can supervise and coach principals, is a great communicator, and is skilled at managing district operations.

“That’s not to say that there weren’t some of those qualities in the current administration, but we need to continue to double down on getting better, and getting better every day,” says Fogarty.

Some improvements are being made to help the justice system accommodate people with autism spectrum disorder
(9:41 - 14:40)

The state is looking to address how the criminal justice system interacts and supports people with autism spectrum disorder.

“I think it’s long overdue,” says Luciana Randall, executive director of Autism Connection of Pennsylvania.

Randall says misunderstandings can easily happen between law enforcement and people with autism: Someone may have a slower response to questions or commands, and have trouble finding their words.

Randall says there’s only one question in a county jail screening that asks if someone presents signs of a developmental disability.

“If that’s your whole screening tool across the country, we don’t even recognize that we’re incarcerating people with autism in the first place.”

However, improvements are taking place.

“In Pennsylvania right now they are looking at processing people at reception with screening tools and evaluations,” says Randall. She says the state correctional system is also setting up a separate Autism “pod.”

Outside of the criminal justice system, Randall says a lot can be done to support people with autism, from updating the Office of Developmental Programs, to providing better training to law enforcement so they’re prepared for interactions with people on the autism spectrum.

The state is updating education science standards to include climate change
(14:47 - 22:30)

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is updating its own science education standards, set to be implemented in 2024. The last time the state’s science standards were updated was in 2002.

“To me, STEM, science, technology engineering and math, is really a philosophy that is a workforce development philosophy,” says Jeff Remington, a STEM teacher in Lebanon County. Remington is on the content and steering committees to update such standards. “When we are in the real world, in real jobs, we don’t silo subject areas or expertise out,” as the past standards have typically done.

Remington says the committee crafting the new standards held 14 stakeholder sessions around the state, including some online, to accept questions, concerns and suggestions.

“We just finished up in June a public comment period where once samples of the standards were presented publicly, the public had a full month to comment on that,” says Remington.

The committees have since looked at best practices nationwide to also help in crafting new standards.

“The 2002 [standards] are more what I would call, ‘sit and get,’ which would be learning facts and things like that,” says Remington. “What you’re going to see in these standards are a lot more doing: students will propose solutions, students will analyze data to create a model.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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