Calling it "a major step forward toward establishing local control of our schools," Mayor Kenney on Wednesday named a new, nine-member board of education to govern the Philadelphia School District beginning July 1.
The mayor leaned heavily on educators and those with social services backgrounds, choosing six women and three men, including two people who until last week were members of the soon-to-be-disbanded School Reform Commission.
Named to the board were Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix Lopez, Lee Huang, Maria McColgan, Christopher McGinley, Angela McIver, Wayne Walker, and Joyce Wilkerson. Most have not previously been in the public eye.
"I am confident that the board we are announcing today is ready for the work ahead of us," Kenney said at a news conference in City Hall. He hailed the panel, culled from 500 nominations and picked from 45 finalists, as "nine great Philadelphians."
Kenney was clear that the task in front of the group is enormous. Most had never met each other before Wednesday, and in less than three months they will run a $3.2 billion organization with no revenue-raising capabilities. The mayor is keenly interested in their work, having made education the centerpiece of his administration.
"The only way we're going to achieve economic justice and equality and fairness is education," Kenney said. "This is the most critically important task that we face. This is the most difficult thing we have to do."
Thrust into the spotlight, the nine unpaid board members — whose terms are concurrent with the mayor's — will also be the public face of a tax increase Kenney is asking City Council to approve and the public to swallow. The mayor wants to give the school system nearly $1 billion over five years to bring its long-suffering finances into structural balance.
Still, Kenney noted that he wanted the board to stay above the fray.
"I don't want them to be politicians," he said. "I want them to run a school district."
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., who said he was impressed by the group, said he was pleased to hear the board members, each of whom spoke briefly at City Hall, mention equity so frequently.
"This is about making sure all of our children — irrespective of where they are in the city — have access to a high-quality education," Hite said. "That education is our path forward as a city."
The panel is a diverse group. It includes Danzy, a social worker and former deputy commissioner in the city health department; Egea-Hinton, a social worker, homeless advocate, and former city worker; Fix Lopez, a former ESL teacher in city schools and current Community College of Philadelphia faculty member; Huang, a vice-president at Econsult Solutions, an economic analysis firm; McColgan, a physician who also worked as a district teacher and served as a charter-school board member; McGinley, former SRC member, suburban superintendent and Philadelphia teacher who works as an education professor at Temple University; McIver, a former middle school math teacher who holds a Ph.D. in education; Walker, who has worked in corporate governance and turnarounds and is a former board president of Habitat for Humanity International; and Wilkerson, the former SRC chair and city chief of staff who now works for Temple University.
Three are parents of current students — Huang and McIver have children at Penn Alexander, and McIver also has a child who attends Central High School. McColgan is the parent of two children in charter schools. Fix Lopez is the mother of a preschooler who will eventually attend Childs, a neighborhood school in Point Breeze.
Egea-Hinton was the first in her family to graduate from high school; Walker is a first-generation college graduate. Huang, the father of three adopted children, said he takes the district's responsibility to educate children of color very seriously.
Huang also said he feels like the board takes over at a particularly important moment for Philadelphia.
"I have never been more bullish about the future of the city," said Huang, who moved to Philadelphia from Silicon Valley 26 years ago.
The new board drew immediate praise — or condemnation — from education watchers who had waited months to hear who would run the school system.
"We are most appreciative of the rich mix of the board," Councilwomen Jannie L. Blackwell and Blondell Reynolds Brown said in a statement. "This new board is culturally mixed, racially mixed, with diverse experience and exceptional talent."
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said his initial take on the board was favorable.
"They're all individuals who have accomplished a lot," said Jordan.
But Julien Terrell, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union, said it was a "terrible board" that left out the advocates and everyday people who pushed so hard to achieve local control. The board has parents on it, he said, but their children attend well-resourced public schools that don't represent the experience of students in most city schools.
"Saying you're a parent of a child that's going to a school that already has resources… doesn't reflect the knowledge you need to have," Terrell said. "You look at the group, it really represents a fiscal management-type mindset."
They will begin their work almost immediately, launching into orientation sessions as the School Reform Commission is in the thick of its budget season. The board members will also fan out across the city for community listening sessions.
Board members said they were excited about the work in front of them. Many said they were nervous, too.
City Council President Darrell L. Clarke looked at the new board and smiled.
"God bless you," he said. "You're going to need it."