Mayor Kenney has chosen Joyce Wilkerson - a former chief of staff to Mayor John Street - as his pick for the School Reform Commission. She took the oath of office Thursday morning in Kenney's cabinet room.
Wilkerson, currently an executive at Temple University, replaces Marjorie Neff on the SRC and is also chair of the five-member body. After speaking with Wilkerson by phone, Gov. Wolf formally named her chair shortly after she was sworn in as a commissioner, his spokesman said.
She said she hardly hesitated before accepting Kenney's offer to join the SRC. Her early work was in housing, and then she moved into government before joining Temple. At a recent meeting there, a topic was Kenderton Elementary, the North Philadelphia school whose struggles were the recent topic of Inquirer and Daily News stories.
"All roads seem to lead back to education," Wilkerson said in an interview. "This is really important."
Kenney said choosing Wilkerson was easy. The two have known each other for decades from Kenney's days on City Council and Wilkerson's as a top aide to Street.
"She's really smart, and she's dedicated to kids," said Kenney. Also key: she'll give her honest assessment of a situation, not tell you what you want to hear, he said.
Her background also makes her a good choice, the mayor said.
At Temple, Wilkerson handles community relations and is the point person in the university's quest to build a new stadium in North Philadelphia. She was also key in Temple's deal to buy the former William Penn High School on North Broad Street.
Wilkerson, who was trained as an attorney, grew up in Cleveland and spent the early part of her career working for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. She also worked at the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.
She worked for Street during his years as City Council president and mayor, and was key to his Neighborhood Transformation Initiative and the city's takeover of PGW. She also worked as chief of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority after Hurricane Katrina.
She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley.
Kenney considered a number of people from all sectors - education, business, law, and more, his aides said.
"Joyce has got the fiscal experience, she's got government experience, she's got the political experience," said the mayor. The last part can be particularly key if Wilkerson is elevated to chair as expected.
Wilkerson said Temple is fully on board with her SRC job.
About that commission job: Wilkerson said she hopes it goes away at some point in the not-too-distant future.
"I think there ought to be local control," she said. "It needs to happen and it needs to happen sooner rather than later."
Kenney and Wilkerson are aligned, they said: they want the SRC to disappear but not immediately.
Wilkerson is replacing Neff, a former district principal, who did not cast a single yes vote to expand charter schools or approve new ones.
"I'm not going to say never," Wilkerson said of her view on charter expansion and approval. But, she said, "charters are pitted against traditional public schools under the current funding structure," and that needs to change.
"We've got to fix the charter law in Pennsylvania," she said.
Also tops on her list is getting a new contract for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which has been without a deal for three years.
The mayor will name another new SRC member early next year, when Sylvia Simms' term expires. She is not expected to be held over.