School & District Management

Maverick Streak

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 20, 2006 2 min read
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Challenging the Status Quo

Read the other story profiles:

Answered Prayer

Historic First

Into the Fray

Position: Superintendent, Pittsburgh public schools, since July 2005

Former jobs: Managing director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education; member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives

Pittsburgh: Mark Roosevelt, a former Democratic state lawmaker in Massachusetts, is using his political skills to shake up the Pennsylvania school district.
—Photo by Jason Cohn for Education Week

Pittsburgh: Mark Roosevelt, a former Democratic state lawmaker in Massachusetts, is using his political skills to shake up the Pennsylvania school district.

Broad Superintendents Academy, 2003

Mark Roosevelt is a skilled politician, at ease in the media fishbowl. His maverick streak runs deep—his great-grandfather was President Theodore Roosevelt.

Perhaps that explains why this former state lawmaker and one-time Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts has had no qualms about shaking up the Pittsburgh school system in his rookie year as a superintendent.

In just 10 months, Mr. Roosevelt, a 50-year-old Harvard University-educated lawyer, pushed through a plan to close 22 schools. He negotiated an overdue contract with the teachers’ union, and, in May, he announced a strategy to raise achievement, especially among African-American students.

He has aggressively pursued his initiatives despite a fractious school board that did not unanimously support his appointment. Viewing his outsider status as an asset, he has not flinched. The 32,000-student district, which was facing a $40 million deficit in its $533 million annual budget and the threat of state takeover when he started, needed some audacious decisionmaking, he said in a recent telephone interview.

“Everything here has been so dramatically dramatic,” he said. “I think what has helped me most is my eagerness to get outside players involved, and my willingness to marshal forces to overcome the status quo.”

He acknowledges his lack of classroom savvy, but believes that hiring veteran academic chief Lynn Spampinato (who is a fellow Broad Academy graduate) to oversee curriculum and instruction should ease worries about his inexperience.

At his request, the Broad Foundation paid for four veteran school leaders—Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant of Boston and former district chiefs Arlene Ackerman, Ramon C. Cortines, and Eric J. Smith—to go to Pittsburgh and advise the new superintendent on strategies to improve the curriculum and student achievement.

“There they were, some of the best minds in public education, focusing entirely on Pittsburgh schools for two full days,” Mr. Roosevelt said. “It was off-the-charts helpful to me personally, and to the district.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week as Maverick Streak

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