Turning Things around His Hallmark Head of City Schools Worked on Culture

By Born, Molly | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 29, 2016 | Go to article overview

Turning Things around His Hallmark Head of City Schools Worked on Culture


Born, Molly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


PALM BEACH, Fla. - The new superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools has spent most of his career in a sprawling, diverse district in South Florida, where he has staked a claim on turning around troubled schools.

Anthony Hamlet, a director in the Palm Beach County school system's "transformation" office, which focused on closing the achievement gap in some of its most academically struggling schools, will begin his work in Pittsburgh Wednesday. He'll start a monthlong consulting contract for "transition and planning activities," overlapping with outgoing schools chief Linda Lane, whose contract ends June 30. Over this summer, he and the board will draw up a strategic plan, mapping out goals for the district and specifying what the new top administrator is expected to achieve.

In an interview here last week, Mr. Hamlet emphasized a desire to stay in Pittsburgh beyond the three years that the Council of the Great City Schools found is the average tenure for an urban superintendent.

"Like I told the school board, I want this to be my first superintendency and my last."

Rich and poor

The Palm Beach County school system covers more than 2,300 square miles and includes 183,000 students representing just shy of 200 countries and territories. Well-off areas like Palm Beach island and Wellington share the boundary with Belle Glade, an impoverished town near Lake Okeechobee at the end of a long highway flanked by fields of sugar cane. Pittsburgh Public has about 25,000 students representing nearly 60 countries.

"We've got the richest of the rich, and the poorest of the poor," said Kathi Gundlach, president of Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association.

Mr. Hamlet, 46, grew up in this district and graduated from high school in 1987. He started at the University of Miami that fall, playing defensive end for the Hurricanes.

In an interview, Mr. Hamlet said he saw his father, who was incarcerated for years, only twice during his childhood. When they reconnected years later, his father told him he'd heard his son's name announced during an Orange Bowl broadcast - from within a Miami jail.

"He remembers himself being in jail and telling his friends, 'That's my son.' ... People would say, 'Yeah, right.' He didn't have any pictures because he was never around me," Mr. Hamlet said. "Sometimes I think I'm the person I am because I grew up the way I did."

Mr. Hamlet was drafted by the NFL's Seattle Seahawks after college, but sustained a knee injury at the end of training camp, forcing a return to Florida for surgery. Knowing he always wanted to work with kids, he said, he got a job at a group home in Palm Beach County while recovering. In early 1993, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts, but shorty before the start of regular season, he hurt his knee again, and the team released him after roughly four weeks on the injured reserve list.

He then started working at an alternative school in Palm Beach County, but left for a shot with the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, calling it in his 1994 resignation letter a "lifelong dream" to play professional football. After six months, and another stint on injured reserve, he came home.

"I thought maybe this is not for me, so let me go back and do some things I've been successful at and start teaching again," he said.

Mr. Hamlet has worked as a behavior specialist, teacher, coach, vice and assistant high school principal. He was principal at an alternative education school, an international baccalaureate middle school, and mostly recently at Palm Beach Lakes High, one of the district's lowest-performing schools where suspensions were significantly reduced during his tenure.

In 2003, he earned a master's in education from Nova Southeastern University, then a doctorate in educational leadership from that Ft. Lauderdale school in 2007. …

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