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Now full strength, Phila. school commission talks about finding a new superintendent

Now that Feather O. Houstoun has joined the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the five-member group has begun preliminary talks about searching for a new superintendent.

Now that Feather O. Houstoun has joined the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the five-member group has begun preliminary talks about searching for a new superintendent.

At a rare Friday session, SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos announced that the search was one of the personnel matters commission members had discussed in executive session earlier in the day.

He said they had not decided on the search process.

"We don't have a timetable to announce today," Ramos said. "We hope to do that in the weeks ahead."

But he said that the commission wants to have a superintendent in place for the start of the 2012-13 academic year "and would hope to have a little bit of a transition period."

Leroy D. Nunery II has been acting superintendent since Arlene C. Ackerman left the district in August.

Ramos said the commission had been waiting until it reached its full complement of members before beginning a search for a permanent successor.

Friday's planning meeting was the first for Houstoun, a nominee of Gov. Corbett who was confirmed by the state Senate on Monday.

Houstoun retired as president of the William Penn Foundation this year. She was the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Secretary in the administration of Gov. Tom Ridge and New Jersey treasurer under Gov. Thomas H. Kean.

Her arrival brings the commission to a full complement for the first time since February.

The commission has been reconstituted in the last few months in the aftermath of the resignations of several members.

During Friday's meeting, Kelley Hodge, the new safe schools advocate, addressed the SRC.

"First and foremost, I am an advocate, and my number-one priority is to do what needs to be done to ensure that victims of school violence get the help that they need," Hodge told the commission. "However, I cannot do that alone. I need partners who are as committed to the mission of this office as I am. I need partners like you."

Hodge, a former assistant chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney Office's juvenile unit, was appointed this month to the independent, state-funded position to serve as a watchdog for school violence.

The post, created by state law in 2000, had been vacant for two years.

The advocate is charged with assisting victims of violence, monitoring how the district reports crime to the city and state, and compiling an annual report detailing the level of violence in the school system and how the district is handling it.

Hodge, who has an office in the district headquarters at 440 N. Broad St., has pledged to be accessible to parents, students, and the school community.

At Friday's meeting, commission members heard from several parents who were concerned about the impact that an additional round of budget cuts planned for the end of the month will have on schools.

Parents worried that the elimination of bus monitors and noontime aides will jeopardize children's safety and feared that children will lose out on more arts and athletic opportunities.

"Children need not only academic enrichments but cultural enrichments as well," said Delores Solomon, president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council.

Philadelphia has a high poverty rate and "cutting the budget will hurt the children who need it the most," she said.

Ramos said the commission would vote Wednesday on a schedule that will shift its twice-monthly meetings from the afternoon to 6 p.m. for planning and strategy sessions and 5:30 p.m. for voting meetings. He said the proposed changes would make it possible for more parents to attend meetings.