Saying it was time to "turn the page" on city schools' tumultuous recent past, a new-look School Reform Commission on Wednesday said it would forge "a new relationship" with the public.
"We commit as a commission to working in a transparent and efficient manner," interim chairman Wendell Pritchett said. "We have to get the public's respect and trust in this process."
Gov. Corbett on Wednesday named Pritchett, a mayoral appointee attending his first meeting, interim chair and said that gubernatorial nominee Pedro Ramos would take that job if he is confirmed by the state Senate.
Ramos, who did not attend the meeting, acknowledged the task ahead.
"We all understand that there's an enormous amount of work that's required to stabilize the district, establish trust, assure the best leadership talent, and ultimately assure that students and future students are safe and graduate academically ready for the world that awaits them," Ramos said in an interview.
Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers-Camden, has two children in city public schools. Though Wednesday was the first time he set foot in the district's headquarters on North Broad Street, he said he "grew up" at the old district building; both his parents were Philadelphia public school educators.
Pritchett said he would focus on fulfilling the SRC's "fiduciary responsibility" and on supervising the superintendent.
The five-seat SRC currently has only three members - Pritchett, Denise McGregor Armbrister, and Joseph Dworetzky. Ramos, if confirmed, will take the fourth seat; the fifth would be another mayoral appointee. Former Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and Commissioner Johnny Irizarry resigned in September.
Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery acknowledged at the meeting that the last few months - marked by budget cuts, secret political deals, and ugly public battles over leadership - had been "hard, personally and professionally. Not just for me, but for a lot of folks who are sitting here."
Nunery called for healing.
"I'm also turning the page," he said. "I think we're at a completely different point. We're going to keep moving. We're going to make a lot of progress."
Sitting in the first row of the audience were two new "executive advisers" named by the city and state this week to work directly with Nunery and the SRC until a permanent superintendent is named to replace Arlene C. Ackerman, who left days before the start of the school year.
Lori Shorr and Edward Williams said they were optimistic about their new roles.
"It is the first time that you will see the school district, the state, and the city all coming together to create a vision and a plan for Philadelphia students," Williams said.
In contrast to the highly charged meetings that marked the end of Ackerman's tenure, Wednesday's meeting took on a different, calmer tone. Each commissioner also made a statement at the beginning of the meeting.
Dworetzky said he was excited by the new working group of business experts convened by Mayor Nutter and Pennsylvania's education secretary to advise the SRC on matters of operations and administration.
He said he believed the district faced sobering challenges, including implementing brutal budget cuts and laying out a plan to close and consolidate schools. He said there would also be more focus on charter schools.
Armbrister said the district would need to work on issues of climate and safety.
"That is something that continues to trouble me, and I think we need to continue to be focused on it," she said.
Parent Christine Carlson asked the SRC and Nunery what they had learned from the last few months.
"We owe you not only the truth, but we have to make sure that what we do for you is deliver on the promises we make," Nunery said.
Pritchett echoed his call for transparency. Later, in an interview, he said he would also answer media questions. Archie did not.
Still, it's clear that the district, the SRC, and its funders have much damage to repair.
District teacher Hope Moffett - who became a folk hero last school year when she landed in the disciplinary "rubber room" after speaking out against the district's decision to turn Audenried High into a charter - said she was still wary.
"Despite the shake-up of the School Reform Commission's membership, the SRC, Philadelphia politicians, and the School District still have an integrity issue," said Moffett, now teaching at FitzSimons High.
"I constantly hear the refrain that it is time to look forward, but the future we are supposedly moving toward looks suspiciously like our tainted past, the past that our officials refuse to acknowledge and learn from," she said.
Later, district mechanic John Krol urged the SRC to work to keep the 1,200 blue-collar workers who recently received layoff notices. The notices were sent after workers voted down concessions.
Krol - who has worked for the district for 19 years, and who said he loves his job - said he was called by a district employee before the meeting and warned not to make any derogatory comments in his testimony.
"I was told, 'If you're an employee of the School District, I advise you not to speak,' " Krol said.
He said he had a right to speak out and not be intimidated.
In an interview after the meeting, Nunery agreed and said he would check on the situation.
"That concerns me," Nunery said. "He should be heard."