Gov. Rendell today named Sandra Dungee Glenn - a Street appointee with strong connections to Congressman Chaka Fattah - as the next chairman of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission.
Dungee Glenn, 49, the primary force behind the district's decision to require all students to take an African American history course to graduate, will take the helm next month.
A Democrat, she would replace James Nevels, 55, a Swarthmore businessman and Republican who announced on Friday that he would step down after schools open in September.
"I believe that Sandra Glenn offers the experience and leadership skills the commission needs at this critical juncture," Governor Rendell said.
"Her many years of focus on proven academic programs for the most disadvantaged students will help ensure that the commission thoughtfully handles the two tough tasks of bringing the budget into balance and continuing the momentum of the academic gains made over the last five years."
He described Dungee Glenn as a "constructive and visionary commission member."
Commissioner Martin Bednarek praised the appointment as "a good choice."
He added: "She certainly has a passion for education which I witnessed many times, publicly and also privately."
Dungee Glenn, president of the American Cities Foundation, which works on urban policy issues, was first appointed to the Board of Education in March 2000 by Mayor Street. After the state takeover of the district in 2001, Street named her as one of his two mayoral appointees to the five-member School Reform Commission.
Dungee Glenn did not return calls for comment.
Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy election-watchdog group, called the appointment a compromise on Rendell's part. The district stays under state control, but is led by a mayoral appointee.
"I view it as picking a person who can represent strong local control and perhaps tamp down that desire in a way to have the schools move back into hands of local officials," Stahlberg said.
Democratic Mayoral Candidate Michael Nutter Saturday questioned whether it may be time to return control of the school district to the mayor. He was responding to speculation that Rendell was poised to gain more control of the SRC by naming a new chair to replace Nevels.
Mayor Street's spokesperson and education secretary did not return calls for comment.
Rendell still will have a vacancy to fill on the commission. Any appointment would need senate confirmation, which can't happen until after the legislature returns in September.
Nevels said last week his decision to leave had nothing to do with his group's efforts to locate a major league soccer franchise and stadium in Chester City - an endeavor on which he needs Rendell's support, as the group needs state funding to help with the project.
Other officials also said yesterday that while Rendell did speak with soccer officials earlier this month, no deal was struck.
John Estey, Rendell's senior advisor, said there is no connection between Nevel's departure from the commission and his push for soccer funding from the state.
"Absolutely not," Estey said, adding that the administration is "interested in continued discussions about bringing major league soccer to southeastern Pennsylvania."
A graduate of the district's Girls High and the daughter of a Philadelphia public school teacher, Dungee Glenn, a trim woman and sharp dresser, speaks eloquently and knowledgeably about education issues in the 174,000-student district. Besides pushing the African history mandate, she also has backed single sex schools.
Dungee Glenn has a stepdaughter in the district, and she frequently takes the part of citizens who show up to address the commission at its monthly meetings. She has been one of the most vocal critics against privatizing schools and has called for the district to reclaim control of schools from six outside managers, including Edison Schools.
In a 2002 Inquirer interview, Dungee Glenn said she believed that, historically, the funding of public education has been racist.
"The problem is there are many people who don't believe that our children, who are predominantly children of color, deserve the same investment as children five minutes across the county line who are predominantly white," Dungee Glenn had said.
Dungee Glenn, who is black, wrote and proposed the resolution in February 2005 that called for African and African American history courses to be offered at all high schools the following fall. From the beginning, she wanted the courses to be mandatory, although district administrators initially were reluctant.
She persuaded other commissioners to back her position and the course became a mandate in fall 2005. Black students make up two-thirds of the student body, and they need the self-awareness and self-esteem that learning about their culture can bring, she said at the time. She also said that Africans unfairly were "stripped" of their culture when they came to this country and that it was time to bring it back.
Dungee Glenn has drawn praise in the past from high-ranking officials.
Mayor Street once said she has the makings of a mayor. David La Torre, a spokesman for former Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker, said in an interview in 2002 that although the Schweiker administration disagreed with Dungee Glenn on policy issues "her commitment to the (commission) and the time she volunteers toward this cause is indicative of how much she really cares."
As a child, Dungee-Glenn attended Barry Elementary in West Philadelphia, then Conwell Middle School and finally Girls High. Her mother taught at Bryant School and her father, James was a pharmacist who ran Dungee's Pharmacy at 54th Street and Girard Avenue.
She still lives by her high school motto: Vincit quise vincit (She conquers who conquers herself).
After earning a bachelor's degree in health, planning and administration from Pennsylvania State University, Dungee Glenn held a variety of jobs in environmental health and union advocacy. She worked on Democratic political campaigns, including the successful 1988 state Senate run of Fattah. He made her his chief of staff.
After running Fattah's congressional campaign in 1994, she became president of the American Cities Foundation.
She also hosts a weekly radio program, School Days, on WURD-AM (900), which serves a largely African American audience. On the show, she explores broad educational issues affecting urban children, but also explains the often complex and sweeping decisions being made by the school commission.