Three years ago, a divided Pittsburgh school board took a chance on an unconventional choice to lead the district.
Mark Roosevelt, great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, had never been a teacher or a principal or a school board member. He had never managed a staff larger than 25 people. And he was new to Pittsburgh.
Since then, he has proven that he knows how to make the tough, fiscally sound choices it takes to start solving the district's pervasive problems.
Mr. Roosevelt's most significant achievement could be the Pittsburgh Promise, a $250 million program that rewards city public high school graduates with college scholarships. Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal credited a similar program in Kalamazoo, Mich., with increasing school enrollment, job growth and home building.
He has controlled school district spending, which had been escalating. Between 2002 and 2005, the budget rose 9.1 percent; in the last three years, spending fell by 0.02 percent.
He has made some necessary but unpopular choices, including the closing of 22 schools, the shuttering of Schenley High School and a plan to move the middle school for performing arts into the high school building. A responsible, new contract with teachers was reached this year after contentious negotiations.
Last week the district released its latest test results, which showed improved overall math and reading scores, although probably not enough to meet federal standards. Mr. Roosevelt said the numbers also showed a narrowing of the racial achievement gap.
To be sure, the job is not done, which the school board recognized a year ago by extending the superintendent's contract through the 2010-11 school year. Under its terms, the board will vote next month on whether to give him a $15,000 raise, bringing his salary to $210,000.
For making the difficult calls and turning the system in the right direction, he's earned it.