PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The new year will bring new leadership for the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Superintendent Mark Roosevelt is off to a college presidency in Ohio. He was only here for five years, but brought about significant change.
When Roosevelt was brand new in 2005 taking over a district with severe financial issues and a reputation for administrative and board conflict, he kept saying the same thing.
“The culture must be changed,” he said.
And has he leaves five years later, he says, “The culture has changed.’
Somehow, this former legislator from Massachusetts, a guy who’d never been a teacher, let alone a school principal or administrator, found a way to work with the school board and the teachers union to rearrange things, developing a new core curriculum, creating new training and incentives for teachers.
He also closed half-empty or rundown schools. Not that it’s been easy.
Students and parents were furious over an early decision to shutter the landmark Schenley High School ridden with asbestos and some object to more recent plans to close Peabody High School and realign schools in the East End.
“I feel like I’m standing here talking and talking and talking and they could give a frying frick what I say, because they already made their plans,” one frustrated parent said.
Looking back, Roosevelt now admits he could have done a better job communicating with parents, but he never apologized for doing what he said must be done.l
“Pittsburgh’s gotten smaller and shame on us if we don’t adapt to that,” he said.
But to Roosevelt, adapting to a smaller city did not mean managing decline. He’s credited with doing big things like helping launch the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program.
“What we’ll be saying to kids in the Pittsburgh Public Schools is, ‘If you play by the rules and do what you’re supposed to do, and you do your work and you graduate from the Pittsburgh Public Schools, there will be education after high school in your future and money will not be what holds you back from that future,’” he said.
And under Roosevelt, the district won grants from the Gates Foundation and the federal government – nearly $80 million for teacher development.
And yet, some of the most frustrating problems remain. Just last month, the watchdog group A-Plus Schools said the achievement gap between black students and white students is closing, but way too slowly.
“We don’t have 40 or 50 years to get this right,” Sala Udin, with A-Plus Schools said. “We’ve got to come up with a plan that’s going to get it right in a much accelerated way.”
Roosevelt predicts teachers will make the difference and says a new agreement with their union will bring better evaluation, compensation and retention.
As he offered his farewell, Roosevelt acknowledged the district has only begun to turn around – a job that will never end even though for him, it’s time to move on.
“I think I’m a turnaround artist, and that probably means that my best work in Pittsburgh has been accomplished,” Roosevelt said.
Dr. Linda Lane will take over for Roosevelt. She’s been deputy superintendent since 2007.