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Superintendent, NAACP Pledge to Work Together

Holtzman says remarks were meant as a “call to action,” not “calling out” anyone

By Siana Emery
The Tube City Almanac
November 11, 2021
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

The McKeesport unit of the NAACP has accepted an apology from the school district superintendent, and both sides say they want to collaborate on challenges facing the community.

“My comments were not intended to be disrespectful or unprofessional,” said Mark Holtzman Jr., McKeesport Area School District superintendent, this week. “They were geared towards calling to action our community groups (and) members that were present at the meeting.”

Brenda Sawyer, NAACP unit president, said Wednesday the group wants to “put this incident behind us and continue to do what’s important.”

“And that is to ensure that the children in the McKeesport Area School District experience acess to quality teaching, fair discipline, equitable resources and challenging curricula — all necessary in preparing them for college or vocational training with resultant meaningful careers,” Sawyer said.

A controversy emerged during discussions surrounding the new contract awarded by the school board to Assistant Superintendent Tia Wanzo. Wanzo is the highest-ranking Black administrator in the school district.

In September, Holtzman called on people attending the board meeting to reflect on advocacy, and to ask themselves what that meant in the context of McKeesport Area schools and the greater community.

Holtzman questioned the level of support being offered by various community groups, including the NAACP.

At the October school board meeting, Sawyer read from an open letter that chastised Holtzman for his remarks.

Holtzman said this week his comments were intended to be a call-to-action — but that he was not “calling out” any group or individual.

“Our children need role models like Dr. Wanzo beyond education, (and also) as a lifelong member and mentor of the community,” Holtzman said. “I do apologize to everyone if I offended anyone with the challenge I issued to support her. This is part of an on-going challenge for me to create some advocacy (within the district).”

The superintendent said he wants to bring together community resources to tackle areas of weakness within the district.

“We have such a rich tradition and sense of pride in the city of McKeesport,” Holtzman said. “We need to work together to solve problems and celebrate accomplishments. We look forward to setting the example for other communities of how to establish strong lasting partnerships that support our children and educators.”

“I look forward to having more involvement from our community groups and organizations at our meetings, as well as at school and community events,” he said.


Siana Emery is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh’s South Hilltop. She has also written for The Mennonite World Review, Goshen College Communications and Marketing and The Goshen College Record. She may be reached at sianaemery@gmail.com.

Originally published November 11, 2021.

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