Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday named an engineer, a lawyer, and a longtime activist for students with disabilities to fill three vacancies on the nine-member Philadelphia school board.
Kenney selected Lisa Salley, Reginald Streater, and Cecelia Thompson. All three are Philadelphia School District graduates; Streater is a current district parent, and Thompson’s child recently graduated from the school system.
“I am proud to appoint these new members to the school board and believe they each will bring a valuable set of skills and diverse experiences to the table,” Kenney said in a statement. “I was inspired by their passion for public education and their eagerness to take on this critical work.”
If approved by City Council, the three would fill vacancies that emerged this year on the unpaid panel that controls a $3.5 billion budget and oversees the education of more than 200,000 children.
Salley, 54, a graduate of Masterman and Girls’ High, worked as an engineer before transitioning to the business world. She also has experience teaching growth and risk management in Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses Program and is a volunteer with the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.
Salley said that her Philadelphia public school education allowed her to “pursue dreams and see the world. My hope is that every Philadelphia child and family has access to quality education that allows them to make dreams realities.”
Streater, 37, a lawyer with Archer & Greiner, is vice president for the Greater Philadelphia ACLU executive board and has taken on the work of making that organization more accessible to the Black community. He graduated from Leeds Middle School and Germantown High and has two children who attend a district school.
“I truly believe that public education should be considered not only a civil right, but also a human right,” Streater said in a statement.
Thompson is chairperson of the Philadelphia Right to Education Local Task Force and secretary of the Governor’s Special Education Advisory Panel. Her son, who has autism, recently graduated from a district school. She graduated from Lea Elementary and Girls’ High and is studying for a master’s degree. She was a founding member of Parents United for Public Education.
“I strive to be a voice for the voiceless,” Thompson, 55, said in a statement.
Joyce Wilkerson, the school board president, said the trio would join the board at a critical time, “as we bring a sharp focus onto the academic success of all of our students.”
Wilkerson said she has not met Salley and Streater but knows Thompson, who often spoke out on educational issues at board meetings. Thompson, a member of the board’s Parent and Community Advisory Council, is “known for her deep commitment to the students of Philadelphia, their parents, and particularly Philadelphia’s special education community,” Wilkerson said.
They were chosen from a field of nine proposed by the school board nominating panel. Questions arose over whether a member of the nominating panel and one of the candidates met the required city residency requirements. The panel member, Maura McCarthy, resigned and the potential nominee, Azeb Kinder, was not chosen for a seat.
In public education circles, initial reaction to the announcement was warm toward Thompson, who is well-known for her advocacy.
But Lisa Haver, a retired district teacher and founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, a nonprofit of parents who advocate for changes and better management of city schools, took issue with Kenney’s nomination process, which she called “tainted and illegal.” Of Salley and Streater, Haver wants to know more.
“Have they advocated for more public funding? Have they called for charter reform in the District and in the state legislature? What are their positions on District budget priorities?” Haver asked in a statement. “The mayor made sure that none of these questions could be answered before his candidates were chosen.”