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Emergency meeting set as incoming Pittsburgh schools superintendent’s future uncertain

PTRHAMLET01060816
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.

The job of Pittsburgh’s new school superintendent could be in jeopardy because of revelations that he plagiarized a line in his resume and in the speech he gave during his first public appearance in the city.

Pittsburgh Public Schools’ board scheduled an emergency, closed-door meeting for Friday to discuss Anthony Hamlet’s future with the district.

“I’m very concerned,” board member Lynda Wrenn said Thursday. “If these allegations are true, I can’t support him as a candidate.”

Hamlet, hired by the board to take over for Linda Lane on July 1, appears to have copied a line from a Washington Post editorial to describe his educational philosophy in his resume, and a definition from BusinessDictionary.com via Wikipedia to describe his role as a “transformational leader.”

He did not return multiple requests for comment about the plagiarized lines.

The nine-member board has been inundated this week with calls and emails from residents alarmed by media reports showing data discrepancies and plagiarism.

“We’re all hearing it, we’re all getting letters and calls and what not,” said board member Terry Kennedy. “I don’t want to make judgments without hearing firsthand because I think that’s unfair to anybody.”

Kennedy said she is concerned that the controversy will derail the positive momentum the board hoped to continue building.

“The superintendent may well be the most important post in Pittsburgh,” said Maxwell King, CEO and president of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The foundation is one of the school district’s largest private funders and established The Pittsburgh Promise, which has committed to raising $250 million to help send the district’s graduates to college or trade schools. “Nothing is more consequential than public education. I hope the board can effectively sort this out.”

Hamlet, a former administrator for the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida, held a news conference Tuesday to explain why school achievement data he highlightedin his resume differed from Florida figures. He admitted he made an error when he said he raised one school’s grade from an “F” to a “C,” but said he used different figures than the state to calculate an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in suspensions.

The controversy has prompted current and former board members to question why the consultant hired to lead the district’s search for a new superintendent did not thoroughly fact-check his application before presenting him as one of six finalists for the job.

Brian Perkins, who runs a consulting group in New Haven, Conn., was hired by the board in October after board President Regina Holley and board member Thomas Sumpter heard him speak at a conference. His $100,000 contract was not put out to bid.

Perkins did not return requests for comment. Holley did not respond to a request for comment.

Wrenn said she had concerns that she didn’t get to weigh in on the hiring of the search firm and would have considered requesting proposals from other firms that specialize in recruiting superintendents.

Kennedy emphasized that Holley and Sumpter were “highly impressed” by Perkins, and that gave her confidence in him. But she believed it was his duty to check all the claims made by the candidates.

“That was an expectation — that Perkins’ firm was going to do background checks on all the finalists,” Kennedy said, although that was not articulated in Perkins’ contract.

During a meeting in the fall, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation’s largest districts, advised the board to hire a firm with experience in finding superintendents for large urban school districts.

The board flouted that advice and instead hired Perkins, who had spoken at national workshops and consulted on superintendent hiring but had never led a search.

Former board member Theresa Colaizzi, who was on the board when former Superintendent Mark Roosevelt was hired, said Perkins’ academic credentials are impressive, but his lack of experience concerned her.

“Mr. Perkins really is responsible and should be held accountable for not doing the homework prior to the board even interviewing,” Colaizzi said. “They are in a very unfortunate situation.”

The purpose of a consultant is to help the board vet the job candidates, and that wasn’t done for Hamlet, former board member Sherry Hazuda said.

“Everything that comes out of that superintendent office now is tainted,” she said.

Vetting resumes is a shared responsibility for the board and the consultant, but the consultant “takes the lead,” said Tom Templeton, who leads searches on behalf of districts across Pennsylvania.

“You do the best you can to make sure that everything within the resume is authentic, and if you notice anything that would seem like a discrepancy, you do everything you can to bring that to the candidate and the board and talk through any of that,” said Templeton, a Harrisburg-based consultant who has led more than 100 superintendent searches statewide.

In Palm Beach, where Hamlet most recently headed the district’s efforts to turn around struggling schools, he was slated to become the district’s director of recruitment and retention next month at a $133,000 annual salary, far less than the $210,000 he will make in Pittsburgh.

Joseph Holcombe, second literacy program planner for the Palm Beach district and a former assistant principal under Hamlet, praised him as a “collaborative leader” who fought to ensure all students had access to high-quality education.

“He was always leading by example and demonstrating a strong work ethic and commitment to the staff and improving education for the students,” Holcombe said.

Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association President Kathi Gundlach called Hamlet a “consummate professional” and lauded his work in improving achievement and culture while he was principal of Palm Beach Lakes High School.

“Palm Beach Lakes is a tough school; it pulls from some difficult neighborhoods and children with challenges, and he did a good job there,” Gundlach said.

But Hamlet, a veteran educator, should have known that plagiarizing is unacceptable, Wrenn said. And using another’s words in his “educational philosophy” was particularly disappointing.

“The new superintendent should be held up as a leader and set a good example for our students,” Wrenn said. “Our students deserve better. Our students deserve the best candidate we can get.”

Elizabeth Behrman and Natasha Lindstrom are staff writers for the Tribune-Review.

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