Penn Hills schools making changes… Superintendent retiring, vice principal under fire

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Toward the end of last school year, the Penn Hills School District was jolted by a series of incidents involving weapons in the schools—and Superintendent Joseph Carroll had to explain the district’s actions.

As the end of this school year approaches, the district is laying off teachers, has suspended an assistant principal for a racial slur, and has to answer a federal lawsuit filed by a former student who, as a senior, was suspended last year—and again, Carroll is fielding complaints.

josephcarroll
SUPERINTENDENT JOSEPH CARROLL

Next year, he won’t have to—he is stepping down as superintendent. Carroll tendered his resignation at the beginning of the May10 school board meeting. The board accepted it in an 8-1 vote. It becomes effective July 9.

“There were a lot of things I took into account, and financially, it doesn’t make a lot of difference retiring now instead of in a year,” he said. “It was an enormous opportunity for me. From the time I started as a teacher, I had aspirations to be a central office figure and that happened at Penn Hills. I am very appreciative of what they afforded me. And as I look at the totality of my career, all of my goals came to fruition here. It’s a nice way to top off a career.”

The Penn Hills District is second only to Pittsburgh in its size and the number of students it serves among Allegheny County districts. Carroll became the district’s first African-American superintendent in 2008, after joining the district four years earlier as assistant superintendent. Prior to that, he had worked as an administrator in the Wilkinsburg, East Allegheny and Clairton school districts.

Aware that Penn Hills had never had an African-American superintendent before, Carroll told the New Pittsburgh Courier at the time the action he would take in the position is more important than his race.

“It’s never happened before, and that can be acknowledged,” Carroll said. “But it is in no way reflective of my expectations, which are to accomplish tasks. Our most pressing needs are academic and we have to aspire to excel.”

As for his departure, Carroll said he is eligible to retire and is doing so. In lieu of the remaining 16 months on his $130,000 annual contract, Carroll will take a severance package and a $30,000 lump sum payment.

He said neither the contentious district reconfiguration, nor the February teachers strike and subsequent settlement played a role in his decision.

“I think the decisions that have been made for the future of this district regarding building reconfiguration were correct,” he said. “And I take some satisfaction in having been part of that process.”

The $130 million reconfiguration includes closing all four elementary schools and opening a consolidated “elementary center,” renovating Linton Middle School and building a new high school.

Another change that may be in the offing is the fate of Erin Jackson, assistant 10th grade principal, who has been disciplined for directing a racial slur towards a student during a conversation with staff members.

NAACP Penn Hills President Joyce Davis wants her fired.

“I am very distressed that in 2010 a member of our school district’s leadership would use such inappropriate and outrageous language when referring to a student,” she said. “It is shocking that a Penn Hills School District administrator would use words like ‘nigger’ when talking about Afro-American youth.”

Carroll declined comment on the incident saying personnel matters are confidential. Jackson could not be reached for comment. School Board member Margie Krogh did not disclose the nature of the discipline, saying only that Jackson was punished “swiftly.”

“It’s like any other personnel issue. We just fired a teacher last week—I can’t talk about that either,” said Carroll. “As for the lawsuit, we’re actually having a meeting about that tonight, but I can’t say any more.”

As for structural changes, the administrative offices have already moved into the former Linton Middle School. Their former home, the Roberts building, will be razed and the new high school raised on that site. The current high school site will be used for new athletic fields and parking.

“The timeline is for the new high school to open for the 2012-2013 school year, the same with the elementary center on the Dible (Elementary) site,” said Carroll. “It’s been an arduous task, but it is near reality. To be part of seeing that come together has been fruitful.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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