When District 3 Pittsburgh Public Schools Director Thomas Sumpter was first elected to the board in 2005, he said his goal was to address the achievement gap between Black and White Students. In 2007, that gap in reading was 33.7 percentage points and 32.8 for math. Today, the gap is 31.9 percentage points and 30.9 respectively.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done. There are some critical decisions that need to be made. The biggest issue is the long-term sustainability of the district. Disparities in achievement that still exist in the district are still an issue,” Sumpter said. “The issue when I first ran was to address the achievement disparity and that takes time. It takes time to first understand what’s going on and once you learn that to be able to apply what’s necessary so for me it’s a continuing effort.”
Sumpter is running unopposed to retain his seat in the upcoming May primary election. After nearly a decade he said he has been able to ensure the board is focused on moving in the right direction.
“Since my tenure, I’ve been able to get the school board to establish its goals, beliefs and commitments,” Sumpter said. “It puts you in a position where you can see what activities are going to contribute to that and you can see where your money is being spent.”
During his tenure, Sumpter completed the Broad Institute for School Boards, where he learned the role of board members in urban districts. For Sumpter the responsibility of the board is not to micromanage, but instead to hold the district accountable for carrying out policies.
“In my role, I view myself as a person of reason; you have to understand where other people are coming from,” Sumpter said. “My intent is to change the culture of the school board, before I came on it wasn’t really focused on exhibiting good governance.”
A decrease of only two percentage points in the achievement gap over the past six years is disheartening to many in the Black community, especially since the achievement gap actually widened between 2011 and 2012.
“That is one of the most difficult and all encompassing questions,” Sumpter said about closing the achievement gap. “One way for sure is when I say boosting attendance because you can’t boost achievement when the students aren’t in the classroom. Attendance levels aren’t what they should be.”
In order to reduce the achievement gap Sumpter said he would focus on using data to improve decision-making and analysis of achievement. He also said he plans to continue the district’s commitment of having a highly effective teacher in every classroom.
In fact, Sumpter said one of his biggest accomplishments during his tenure was securing an Empowering Effective Teachers grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
Sumpter also plans to reduce the achivement by increasing engagement from parents and the community.
“The whole thing of people taking pride in education, pride in our children and moving away from small parochial concerns of whether I have a school in my neighborhood or not to whether I was in a good district, because resources are tighter than ever,” Sumpter said.