But enter Dr. Anthony Hamlet.
About a month removed from the controversy surrounding his hiring, Pittsburgh's new superintendent announced the first steps in his plan to improve Pittsburgh's schools. We had a sense of who Dr. Hamlet was from his work in Florida and his comments when he accepted the position of Superintendent.
Here's a highlight reel:
"I believe in connecting ideas, people, and resources, not controlling them."
"I lead by allowing others to take greater ownership for their work, understanding their strengths, and helping them with their weaknesses."
"We have to focus on what the constituents in the particular organization need to thrive."
"We need to focus on culture, systems, and instruction."
"[We need to] focus on capacity building."
Contrast these comments with the actions of the previous administration:
While leadership paid lip service to using evaluation to improve teaching, its time and energy seemed to be focused on finding and firing the ever elusive bad teacher. It dominated conversation and policy, even frustrating many who believed in the possibilities of the evaluation system as a growth mechanism.
The leadership partnered with astroturf A+ Schools to lobby for legislation that linked furloughs to the controversial system.
It spent a great deal of time fighting for cut scores three times higher than any other district in the state.
It championed a pay structure that massively penalizes proficient teachers with the unproven system (with a 40% pay cut compared to their "distinguished" peers and a 33% pay cut compared to teachers on the old pay structure).
Each of these actions intrinsically signaled the district's distrust in the quality of its teaching force and, for many of us, drove a wedge between its "human capital" and management.
But fortunately, due to real grassroots work and a democratically elected volunteer school board, Pittsburgh has a bright future.
As Dr. Hamlet begins his work in Pittsburgh, his mindset indicates a sharp left turn from "find and fire" to a capacity building and growth mindset, similar to one we should employ in our classrooms.
When hiring a firm to assist with the logistics of planning the district's future, his message couldn't have been more clear. He said, "As Superintendent, I am approaching this transformation-seeking planning process from the belief that people in the system are competent, hard working, and need to be supported."
What a breath of fresh air.
Focus on the right things--supporting, not threatening, the lion's share of the people doing the work well (97% according to 2016 evaluations) and helping others who want to improve. Focus on school culture rather than blame-shifting systemic problems to "those teachers" who don't want to teach "those kids." Build systems of collaboration rather than competition amongst staff. Give teachers real ownership, not faux engagement and ultimatums.
Dr. Hamlet claims to be a man of actions rather than words, but his words are indeed promising. I, for one, am hopeful and energized to begin this school year with my students and under his leadership. August 29 can't come soon enough.