Before and since Brown versus Board of Education in 1954, the NAACP has rallied and petitioned to ensure equity of educational opportunities for all children, but particularly those of African descent. In Pittsburgh, we believe we may have had the first superintendent hired in Pittsburgh who had no experience as a teacher or school administrator and one who was not certified through normal schools of education, causing the African-American students to have suffered greatly.
Mark Roosevelt, in a climate of heightened political activity and support, came into Pittsburgh in 2005, shortly after the firing of our first African-American fully certified and experienced superintendent, Dr. John Thompson.
Over the years, the Pittsburgh Unit of the NAACP has protested, under Roosevelt, the demise of the African-American history course, the alternative education program that serves as a soft prison in an inadequate facility housing mostly African-American males, the re-segregation of schools across the district with the selective closing of schools in the African-American community, the loss without effective recruitment of African-American teachers, the creation and failure of the ALAs (Accelerated Learning Academies) that opened without sufficient planning, sustainability and organization structure, the closing of Schenley high school without adequate planning and thinking to reassign its students, the inequities in the placement of gifted and special education students, the minimal growth of some students and failure of many students on the state PSSA examinations, the superintendent’s support of the Keystone Examinations, the resistance to the formation of new charter schools and finally, the irresponsible and insensitive merging of students from the East Hills (Allderdice), East Liberty (Peabody) areas into Westinghouse High School, to name a few.
It is true that Roosevelt continues to receive plenty of accolades from mostly those who do not have children in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. However, if you are in touch with parents who do have children in the schools, you will hear a totally different account regarding what they say their children experienced under the tenure of Mark Roosevelt.
For instance, the Empowering Teacher Project will initially only affect those teachers entering the school district as new employees, for the most part. This represents a very small population of teachers. It clearly is a start, but will take years to fully benefit our students, if the political climate in the school district and the relationship between the teachers’ union and administrators allow the project to work as intended.
While we also view the Pittsburgh Promise as a valuable program in terms of its conceptual idea, we remain disappointed that the strength of the academic program in the school district under-serves the majority population further widening the opportunity gap as the masses of African-American students have not been able to fully take advantage of this program.
Nevertheless, we are pleased that Mr. Roosevelt has made a decision to move on with his sights far removed from leadership in the K-12 educational environment. The parents we have spoken to see it as a win-win situation. Both Mark Roosevelt and the students in the Pittsburgh Public schools can look forward to hopefully greener pastures that highlight more realistic and viable educational opportunities.
We wish Mr. Roosevelt well. It is hoped that the leadership has not fully eroded all chances of revamping the roads to academic success that should have considered the total well-being of all students, Black and White.
(M. Gayle Moss is president of the Pittsburgh NAACP.)