It only took 138 years, but McKeesport Area School District finally has a Black Superintendent.
Dr. Tia Wanzo was sworn in yesterday at a well attended special meeting of the board.
Dr. Wanzo had been Assistant Superintendent under outgoing Superintendent Dr. Mark Holtzman who left the district for a corresponding position at Beaver Area School District at the end of June.
The McKeesport district, established in 1884 and located just southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has had a sizable Black population for decades. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the district is 71 percent white and 23 percent Black. It serves the City of McKeesport, and boroughs of Versailles, Dravosburg and White Oak as well as a small portion of South Versailles Township.
“It’s an honor to sit on the board at this time as history was made,” Board Member LaToya Wright Brown wrote on a Facebook post.
“Dr. Wanzo is the first African American to be appointed in the role of superintendent at MASD. I look forward to working in collaboration with our central administration teams, MASD staff and communities to give our students what they deserve.”
Dr. Wanzo will be paid $165,000 per year – $25,000 more than Dr. Holtzman had been paid in his original contract from March 29, 2017.
The board voted unanimously to hire Dr. Wanzo as Superintendent though School Director Matt Holtzman – the former Superintendent’s brother – was absent.
During the previous administration, Dr. Wanzo was often put in difficult positions.
In 2019 when the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the district on behalf of 11 district students, she had the difficult job of defending her boss, Dr. Holtzman, while still advocating for the students.
Dr. Holtzman, who was named in the suit, refused to let the students create a Black Student Union. He claimed his objection wasn’t due to the organization’s content but the participation of one of the student’s mothers – Fawn Montgomery Walker who was running for McKeesport Mayor at the time and who is lead organizer of Take Action Mon Valley, a community action group.
Dr. Wanzo was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on the matter as follows:
“The frustrating part is the students clearly did not understand that they’re in the middle of this. And also, it’s frustrating that they feel that we are telling them they cannot do that, you’re not allowed to have this club, because that was never ever stated by any of us.”
The district eventually reached a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union and the students.
The students were allowed to create the club as long as no “non-school persons or entities” are named as advisors or participants of the club.
Dr. Wanzo was also put in a difficult position more recently when the previous school board voted to extend Dr. Holtzman’s contract two years before it expired – a potential violation of state law.
Dr. Holtzman resigned and was rehired at the same board meeting. When this proved contentious, the previous board did the same thing a month later for Dr. Wanzo and then claimed any criticism of what they did for Holtzman was either unfair for not including Wanzo or racially motivated because Dr. Wanzo is a person of color.
The matter concluded with Dr. Holtzman leaving the district.
Unlike her predecessor, Dr. Wanzo spent her entire career at MASD. She was a fifth grade teacher at Francis McClure Middle School, a second grade teacher at White Oak Elementary School, a fourth grade teacher at Cornell Intermediate School, Assistant Principal at Founders’ Hall Middle School, and ninth grade principal at the high school.
She graduated from the district and still lives in its borders. As a student, she attended Centennial Elementary, Cornell Middle School, and graduated from McKeesport High School in 1997.
She has a BA in Elementary Education from Clarion University, a degree in Educational Leadership from Carlow University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Duquesne University.
Hopefully she will be able to lead the district to a brighter future.
To many students she may appear a beacon of representation as well as proof that a student from McKeesport can rise to the top.
WATCH DR. WANZO BEING SWORN IN:
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