Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pittsburgh Superintendent Stepping Down

Forget the conflicting rumors over whether Ron Huberman is or is not stepping down as head of the Chicago school system, this is actually bigger news.  While Huberman is just getting his feet wet as chief of the Chicago schools, Mark Roosevelt dove in head-first a long time ago in Pittsburgh.

Apparently, he's resigning to become the head of Antioch College when it re-opens next fall -- though the college says there are a few more hurdles he has to leap before they'll be ready to make that decision.

But the timing of the move makes it both newsworthy and surprising.  And not just because he's jumping ship in the middle of the school year (December 31st, to be exact).  Few teachers would ever consider abandoning their students mid-year, so it seems somewhat tasteless for a Superintendent to do it (or maybe it just proves that teachers are more important, since the district will likely operate about the same in January as it did in December).

Roosevelt is in his sixth year leading Pittsburgh's schools (which is a fairly long time for an urban superintendent) and was, seemingly, right in the middle of his master plan for reform.  During his time he's implemented massive reform -- closing 22 schools and restructuring countless others, founding the "Pittsburgh Promise" (guaranteed college tuition for district grads that attend in-state public schools), and winning a $40 million grant from the Gates Foundation to overhaul teacher evaluation and pay last year, among many other things.  While he's upset more than a few teachers and parents, the school board is in his pocket, there are no national headlines about his brusque personality, and the mayor isn't going to be replaced anytime soon.

In other words, he pretty much had free reign to mold the district as he saw fit in the coming years (and his pay was recently upped to $240K, with which one can live like a King in eminently affordable Pittsburgh, as part of a new five year contract).  He was on top of the world.  And now he's leaving.  What?  What am I missing?

Considering that he had never worked in schools prior to his job in Pittsburgh (he was a lawyer/politician/businessman), and that he's faced so little opposition from the Board of Ed, it's hard to believe that he's burnt out (though, I suppose, not impossible).  He's originally from Massachusetts and attended Harvard, so there's not a blindingly obvious tie between him and Antioch (in Ohio).  He's never been a college administrator before, so he's not returning to his previous profession.  It's hard to believe that Antioch would be courting him if a giant scandal was about to be exposed.  So, why's he leaving?  You got me.  He's changed positions and professions quite a few times, so maybe he was just ready for a new challenge.

But considering that he was right in the middle of major reform in Pittsburgh, it seems like an awfully odd time to walk away.

It also exemplifies one of the problems with education.  Every time people start to adjust to a wave of reform, somebody new comes along and demands something else.  But people still wonder why teachers and school systems are so resistant to change.

It will be very interesting to see who gets hired as his replacement and which reforms he/she continues . . . stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. It does bring up a lot of unanswered questions, and excellent points. I personally am glad to see him go. However, He will simply be replaced by another Eli Broad graduate.

Pittsburgh does not control it's own destiny, we are owned by Venture philanthropists.

Anonymous said...

He does have a child ready to start school, and if he didn't send her to the PPS, that would not bode well. Sending her to a private school would send the wrong message, don't you think? His older child went to boarding school.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in PPS I really hoped he would succeed in his vision, but to date most of what he has put together is underfunded or riddled with incompetence. It's really sad to see because the ideas looked good on paper I'm sure. Now that it's starting to pile up and there's no more room to blame anyone else I guess he's high tailing it out of town.

Anonymous said...

He would have sent her to Linden if he would have stayed.

LenL said...

The criticisms of Roosevelt seem unfair to me.

He is certainly qualified to be an educational leader. As a state legislator in Massachusetts, he was a central figure in passing Massachusetts education reform law in the 1990s.

I was a superintendent in Massachusetts at that time (a superintendent in the same district for twenty-five years) and the criticism of his leaving in the middle of the academic year is unpersuasive to me. The year for a school superintendent in continuous. Any time a superintendent leaves he or she leaves projects in the middle. Leaving at the end of an academic year does nothing to solve that problem.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Some interesting points from all the anonymous commenters.

Len, I said it was "somewhat tasteless" -- not that it would necessarily impact much of anything.

I don't think we have any accurate way of assessing whether anybody is truly qualified to be an academic leader. Roosevelt is obviously a bright and talented individual, had worked on education issues for a while, and had done a 10 month fellowship with Broad -- so he wasn't just some bum off the street. At the same time, he had no experience working with students, teachers, or the Pittsburgh community -- so he clearly wasn't perfect either (and, of course, nobody is).

But I do take issue with you seemingly asserting that working on educational issues in the Mass. legislature alone qualified him to be Superintendent of Pittsburgh.

Roger Sweeny said...

So, why's he leaving? ... considering that he was right in the middle of major reform in Pittsburgh, it seems like an awfully odd time to walk away.

My guess, for what it's worth: He realized that even if he got everything he'd tried to do in five and a half years, it wouldn't make much difference. There would still be lots of dropouts. And of those who did graduate high school, few would be able to read, write, or do math at a 12th grade level.

Something inside him said, "I really can't improve things any further."

Anonymous said...


Seriously, other than reducing the number if schools, which needed to be done, what did he improve?

They can twist data, but the facts are the facts. Not much has changed except for the increased number of VP's, chiefs and assistant superintendents at the central office.

He had a free pass here, I have no idea why.

Roger Sweeny said...


I'm not saying he improved a lot. I'm saying I suspect he realized he couldn't improve any more.

Anonymous said...

So we get to pay him severance to the tune of $420 per vacation, personal unused sick days along with paying $285,000 for his health insurance for the next 10 years?
Quite the deal for accounting for very little progress, other than closing some schools.

He broke his contract and has the red carpet rolled out for him.

As a taxpayer I really would like to know if this is legal. I did not sign up for this BS, nor do I want to pay for it. Do you?