PGH School Board hires Consultant named Perkins

Do you remember how Pittsburgh Public Schools’ superintendent is soon retiring?

Well here we go! A highfaluting academic is coming on to help the School Board select its #next one.

At the end of a public voting meeting last week, school director Regina Holley made a motion to hire the Perkins Consulting Group — headed by Brian Perkins, director of the Urban Education Leadership Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College — at a cost not to exceed $100,000. (P-G, Clarece Polk)

How that came about was…

Ms. Holley said she and Mr. Sumpter met Mr. Perkins at a conference for the Council of Urban Boards of Education in July and were “impressed with his credentials.” When Mrs. Lane announced in September her plans to retire in June, Ms. Holley recommended Mr. Perkins as a consultant in the superintendent search. (ibid)

It’s always refreshing to get a frank explanation. But now that he’s our Hundred Thousand Dollar Man, Pittsburgh needs to learn about him!

My favorite thing about his professional bio is that he served on a school board for 11 years. Yale doesn’t hurt, either. The focus on “urban education” is certainly relevant.

Leafing through some of his reports of surveys on school climate and parental perceptions, I got the impression that Mr. Perkins and his associates approach education from the “Left,” or as a liberal might.

It’s hard to explain. The educational Right focuses more on testing, discipline, efficiency and conviction. The educational Left puts a greater emphasis on communication, empathy, problem-solving and science.

So it appears the Pittsburgh School Board — on the heels of its own 3-member electoral sweep leftward — just made a bold move to turn the rudder.

The Comet’s only concern off the bat is whether Mr. Perkins has any particular expertise in conducting job searches. Maybe the School Board will contract with still another party to help with the nuts and bolts of human resources; all the better to segregate process from selectivity. Still, his credentials seem to fit that of a schools superintendent better than an executive headhunter.

Maybe he’s here to advise the next board more generally, at its outset.

Thanks to Ali Patterson for calling attention to some of the links on FB’s #OurSchoolsOurSuperintendent

12 thoughts on “PGH School Board hires Consultant named Perkins

  1. Anon

    In education, there is no “left” or “right.” These lines are very blurry. It is wholly inaccurate to say the “right” is in favor of testing, efficiency, discipline and conviction. Testing is a very difficult issue. The Obama administration at first were huge proponents of testing (until some recent comments). But even that needs some exploration. What is “testing?” I think everyone agrees that too much testing is bad. But i also think everyone agrees that some testing is necessary. So the question is one really of degree. Swinging too far to the right (if that is how we are framing it) testing can be used as an unfair criticism of results. Swinging too far to the left (again, if that is the framework within which we are debating), wanting no testing can be cover for wanting to not be accountable. When you ask people for money (taxpayers) they want to know their money is being well spent. That applies to all levels of government, not just education. I don’t think anyone would disagree that we need some metrics of making sure kids are learning and have the tools to be successful.

    Where the lines get even more blurred is the mixing of the other polarizing words – testing, efficiency, discipline. Massive amounts of black families are doing everything they can to get out of the traditional public schools that have failed them for generations and into charter schools. The protected and privileged elite likes to tell them that those charter schools aren’t as good as they think and to just wait a while longer for better traditional schools. The black urban community isn’t buying it. We have been waiting for generations. Does that mean charter schools are the answer for all the worlds problems? Of course not. Does it mean they shouldn’t be accountable? Of course not. But if we aren’t going to test, aren’t going demand some sort of efficiency (isn’t efficiency what Mayor Peduto is calling for in government) and are not going to discipline kids that are disruptive to the educational process, then how do we give parents confidence that their kids will get a good education? This is especially hard where, as in the case of urban black communities, the people are literally climbing over each other telling us the existing system is not accountable, is not working and has failed them. And that has not been for a lack of funding.

    The big concern with this contract for Mr. Perkins is that it was put forth as a last minute agenda item without any discussion. There was a complete lack of transparency. We will reserve judgment, but it looks like the fix is in. Bloggers, reporters, board members, community leaders and others can defend what is going on. But are they willing to be accountable? If enrollment continues to decline, who is to blame? Will we hold people accountable? Or, will we blame ambiguous words like “testing” while the titanic continues to sink. Strum the violins.

    1. Bram ReichbaumBram Reichbaum Post author

      “wanting no testing can be cover for wanting to not be accountable. When you ask people for money (taxpayers) they want to know their money is being well spent.”

      I do agree there. I believe the #1 reason we need to see some testing — and teacher evaluations, and contracts that respond to them — is because we’re never going to see serious increases in education funding if we do not. But in general the “accountability movement” or whatever moved too fast, too soon, and in too many places too arrogantly.

      “The big concern with this contract for Mr. Perkins is that it was put forth as a last minute agenda item without any discussion.”

      And during a meeting when everyone was focused on the Wilkinsburg issue, yes. I agree. That’s why I wrote a whole blog post about it, although I pulled short of labelling it a bad move because Perkins does have some interesting credentials.

      And maybe I am guilty of stretching the ideological framework, but I do think there’s something to it.

  2. Kathy

    “The educational Right focuses more on testing, discipline, efficiency and conviction. The educational Left puts a greater emphasis on communication, empathy, problem-solving and science.”

    It’s sad that education has become so politicized. But since it has…

    The educational right’s main focus is making money through privatization.

    I can’t speak for the entire “educational left” but this lefty wants to implement policies that will address the extreme inequities built in to the fabric of our society, thus fully educating all children. If these policies come from the right, so be it. However, 10 years of corporate style educational policy and leadership has failed in Pittsburgh.

    Maybe we can work together to better educate our children? One can dream…

    BTW, nobody says that all charter schools are bad. They just succeed and fail at the same rate as public schools. They operate as magnets, with certain GPA standards and some particularly creative selection of special education students (higher needs students need not apply!).

    So let’s give the new school board a chance, huh?

    1. Bram ReichbaumBram Reichbaum Post author

      “The educational right’s main focus is making money through privatization.”

      Charters, vouchers, privatization… yes, that is a good one. One could say the left wants more funding for public schools, and some on the right to dial it back in favor of more “school choice”.

      We are giving the new school board the very best possible chance. Scrutiny is helpful. Iron sharpening iron and such.

    2. anon

      Lets stop with the framing. The framing here is that the educational right (whoever those mythical creatures are) want to make money off schools. But the “left” want nothing more than to make a more just society. Is there some truth there? Of course. But there is also truth in the fact that many on the “right’ also believe the education is great equalizer and that giving people the opportunity to better themselves through education is critical to the fabric of our society. And, there are those on the left that care about nothing but money – salaries and pensions. This “lefty” has yet to see the vested interests on the left volunteer to give up some “money” in order to better fund schools.

      Charter schools should be held accountable like any other school. But they should not be vilified either. In PA – all charter schools are non-profits. So the argument about “money” rings hollow there. It rings even hollower if you are a poor minority kid in Pittsburgh or Philly and the “left” keeps telling you things will get better. Your parents and grandparents remember when the “left” said that to them.

  3. Kathy

    As I stated, there should not be a “left” and “right” divide regarding education.

    Again, I’m not vilifying charter schools, only pointing out the fact that there are successful and unsuccessful charter schools, generally at the same rate as traditional public schools. Charter schools do not address the challenge of educating ALL students.

    And yes, by law, PA charters schools have to be non-profit but if we follow the money, we discover the big money that the privatization movement generates. (see this article from the post gazette

  4. Anonymous

    Bram, Mr. Perkins is not qualified to be leading a search for a new superintendent in an urban school district. Period. He has absolutely no experience in this area. It is ridiculous for you to suggest that he is somehow qualified because his “credentials” are “interesting”. In what way does “interesting” credentials equate with competency? The contract to hire Mr. Perkins is a brazen (and poorly disguised) attempt to get around the community input process that is already underway. So if you would, please explain why it is acceptable to hire a consultant for such an important task when there were no other consultants considered? Please assert why the hiring of a woefully unqualified consultant acceptable in this case? Because any reasonable reading of your original post suggests that you have failed to critically examine the decision by the board.

  5. Anonamass

    Bram has been called out for the sham he put together. He liked Perkins for zero good reasons whatsoever, but rather simply because Bram perceived Perkins to be on his political “team.” This blog should go away quietly.

    1. Bram ReichbaumBram Reichbaum Post author

      I didn’t mean to give the impression that I “like” Perkins or approve of his hiring. Having never met him and knowing about him only what I read in the paper, I simply raised some positive and negative aspects. I did point out that he never seems to have conducted a search before or anything like that, weeks prior to the P-G in fact (or, as usual).

      At the same time you ought to concede he has assembled a body of theory about urban public education which might be relevant to helping the new board firm up its own policy inclinations.

      Coming in from out of state, I especially have no idea what “political team” you think he could represent here.

      Having done as you suggested for a while, this blog will now come back quietly.

  6. Anonymous

    So, Bram, please regale us all again with your pragmatic rationale for supporting the Pittsburgh Public School Board process in identifying and hiring a new superintendent. Defend, if you will, The Board now that it is clear that they failed to thoroughly screen this new hire. Explain how any part of this process has demonstrated competency.


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