Roosevelt is one leader who lived up to promise
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Some guys take the money and run. Mark Roosevelt left the money and walked.
Pittsburgh is the better for his five years here.
The outgoing city schools superintendent never appeared to exert himself much. Were Mr. Roosevelt any more laid back, he might never be upright. But his casual style masked a dogged determination. With a lot of help, he left a jaw-dropping legacy.
• A $40 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, paired with a $37.4 million federal grant, spawned a new educational model that includes merit pay for teachers who get results.
• A five-year contract with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, signed last summer, supports a results-driven educational model.
• The Pittsburgh Promise, a program that provides college scholarships of up to $5,000 a year to city high school graduates, will jump to $10,000 annually for 2012 graduates and those who follow.
The city still doesn't seem to recognize how extraordinary that Promise is, Mr. Roosevelt said.
Why isn't there more enthusiasm, with more than 2,400 city students receiving scholarships already?
"Pittsburghers have a healthy dose -- maybe a larger than healthy dose -- of skepticism about good news,'' Mr. Roosevelt said.
The Promise may seem too good to be true. Imagine a family with two children looking at $80,000 in scholarship help over the course of four years. That's what today's city middle school students can expect when they graduate high school a few years down the road. (I know. I have two.)
"I think it's so cool we should dance in the streets every day,'' Mr. Roosevelt said. "I'd hug it if were huggable.''
The Promise may be off most people's thank-you list because when it's time to choose a middle school or high school, the comfort level for Pittsburgh parents isn't where it should be. It could be UPMC, which kicked off the Promise with a 10-year pledge of up to $100 million, doesn't get the credit because it has made enemies with other moves.
What's really surprising, though, is the number of people who still haven't heard of the Promise. I keep running into smart people who never got wind of it.
Maybe Mr. Roosevelt is right that "Pittsburgh Promise'' needs to be emblazoned at the airport, on place mats, cups and even in latrines. Because it's changing lives. With scholarships awarded only to students who attend college or trade school in Pennsylvania, it's also likely that many of these graduates will stick around to shape a better Pittsburgh.
Julia Cahill, 20, a junior majoring in fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University, is a Promise recipient who grew up on the South Side Slopes and now lives in Bloomfield. Her younger brother, David, is a Pitt freshman who also earned a Promise scholarship.
"I never thought it would happen,'' said Ms. Cahill, a graduate of Pittsburgh CAPA who made CMU's dean's list last spring. "I was the first to go to college in my family.''
She was awarded financial aid from CMU, took out college loans and has worked two and three jobs at a time, but she still would not have been able to begin school when she did without the Promise piece.
The Promise has raised $40 million, mostly from foundations, beyond the UPMC pledge. It needs to raise $250 million by mid-2018.
"So we have [more than] seven years to come up with $110 million,'' said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Promise.
That's a tall order, probably tougher than the first $140 million, given that the economy is stuck in neutral and traditional donors already have been tapped. The Promise needs to raise $1.50 for every $1 UPMC pledges each year, and it fell short last year, meaning $2.4 million in potential money was left on the hospital chain's table.
But Mr. Ghubril says he'll make that up this year and be back on track. The model projects scholarships for the next 32 to 35 years, and that can be extended if the Promise continues raising money after this 10-year drive ends.
Mr Ghubril said he loves Mr. Roosevelt like a brother, but, "The Promise is not 'The Roosevelt Promise.' It's the Pittsburgh Promise. It's fulfilling the Promise we've made to our kids.''
It may be under-appreciated in Pittsburgh, but when the number of Promise scholarships crosses the 3,000 mark next spring, there should be at least a few thousand Pittsburgh families who appreciate it.
First Published October 10, 2010 12:00 am