Community reacts to Roosevelt resignation

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With his traditionally lighthearted and comedic demeanor, Pittsburgh Public School District Superintendent Mark Roosevelt announced last week he will resign, after holding the position for five years.

“I stand before you all a very grateful person. I am confident leaving,” Roosevelt said. “I think I’m someone who sees possibilities and makes a turn­around come to life and that’s why I think my work is done in Pittsburgh.”

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RIVALS—Mark Roosevelt, left, and Mark Brentley share a laugh as they shake hands after the press conference. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

At a Oct. 6 press conference, Roosevelt said he is the finalist for a position as president of Antioch College in Ohio. Whether or not he is offered the position, he said he intends to resign Dec. 31 of this year and maybe even seek employment with the Pittsburgh media, he joked.

Often a source of contention with some of the city’s most vocal African-American activists, Roosevelt’s announcement sent a shockwave through the Black community. As the demographic most affected by the superintendent’s frequently controversial decisions, such as the closing of several schools in Black neighborhoods with declining populations, several local education leaders sounded off in response to his statement, both positively and negatively.

“I think Mark Roosevelt is someone who had a lot of courage to do a lot of things that were out of the box,” said Pittsburgh Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush, an early supporter of Roosevelt. “I think African-American children have grown adequately, but I don’t think it’s been enough. I think we have to keep our finger on the pulse for his replacement.”

It’s no secret that Roosevelt’s strongest opponent over the years has been District 8 School Board Representative Mark Brentley.

“I wish Mark Roosevelt good health and I gladly accept his resignation. My biggest concern is the next step to replace the Superintendent,” Brentley said. “It’s going to be very important that this person have a serious track record in urban education, working with the challenges urban school settings often create and someone who has the ability to communicate.”

Already fixed on the future, Brentley has crafted a list of candidates he would like to see in the running for the position. Among them is former superintendent John Thompson; Wayne Walters, principal Pittsburgh Obama 6-12; Frances Barnes, former secretary of education for the Pennsylvania Department of Education; Linda Bryant, a retired teacher and principal; and Regina Holley, former principal of Lincoln K-8.

“These are folks that I think will come in and will probably have to make some serious tough decisions. We are going to need a serious search and rescue team to go in and revive what this administration has done,” Brentley said. “I just want to encourage the communities that they have to get involved. Five or six years ago, the process was tainted, that’s how we got Mark Roosevelt, and we should not let that happen again.”

On the other end of the spectrum, School Board President Theresa Colaizzi said she was unable to discuss how the board would proceed or what criteria they would be considering in future candidates for superintendent.

“In my opinion, we’ve accomplished 20 years of work in the last five,” Colaizzi said. “I look forward to continuing that work.”

When asked what his biggest accomplishment for African-American students has been, in terms of reducing the racial achievement gap, Roosevelt said “raising expectations.” Since 2007, the District has made progress in reducing the disparity on 12 of 14 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams, but some feel this is not enough.

“I think people have to take responsibility for the achievement gap and continue to address it, not just push it aside,” said Helen Faison, a former assistant superintendent and deputy superintendent as well as the District’s first African-American principal, and was a interim Superintendent. “I think if people are able to continue the work, we’ll be able to improve the district.”

Along Roosevelt’s list of other accomplishments during his tenure, he highlighted the implementation of the Pittsburgh Promise, creation of the Empowering Effective Teachers Plan, and negotiating a five-year contract with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. However, he said his greatest accomplishment has been helping to shift the culture of the school board away from an environment that has historically been very combative.

“The culture has changed. The fundamental change in the district is that the school board and we adults have decided to leave that behind,” Roosevelt said. “I think the most unwritten story in Pittsburgh is the progress this board has made.”

As a result of the culture change, Roosevelt said he is very confident the initiatives he helped create will not lose momentum. He attributed a great deal of this confidence to the team of administrators he is leaving behind.

“The board should know and be confident of the leadership we have and their ability to move the district forward,” Roosevelt said. “There are amazing pieces in place. It’s really a question of deepening work. I really believe the pieces are so solidly in place, we don’t need any new ideas.”

“This is not a job you can declare victory in. You will never reach the finish line,” Roosevelt said. “I under invested time and energy in career and technical education. I think I was not as strong in that area. In parental engagement I have had some faults.”

Antioch is a liberal arts college that was closed in 2008 due to declining enrollment and a declining economy. It is planned to be reopened in the Fall of 2011.

“We are all excited to have traveled this far and to see the talented and experienced people who have come before us,” said Lee Morgan, chair of the Antioch College Board of Trustees. “We have great hopes for the successful conclusion of our search for our next president. Our work will continue until we have accomplished this aim.”

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