Leroy Nunery describes his new job as “massive, you know — I am not saying its scary, it’s just big.” Nonetheless, he isn’t daunted by being in charge of the city’s public school system.
A Penn parent, graduate and faculty member, Nunery was appointed acting chief executive officer and superintendent of the Philadelphia School District just before the start of the academic year. Nunery was offered the job when the school district was in a state of heightened instability after Arlene Ackerman — the previous superintendent — had her contract bought-out this summer.
But Nunery is up for the challenge. “I really feel that I am incredibly blessed that I am in this job. People have said to me, ‘Congratulations, I think,’ or ‘Congratulations and condolences.’ Take the negative part out of it.”
One aspect of Nunery’s experience that made him appealing for the job was his varied professional past. Nunery is currently an adjunct professor at the Fels Institute of Government, where he teaches a class on “leadership and management and talent development for nonprofits and government agencies,” he said.
Before his position at Fels, Nunery served as Penn’s vice president for Business Services. He was responsible for overseeing $160 million in revenue and over 800 employees, according to his profile on the School District website. Many of the West Philadelphia relationships that are now considered cornerstones of Penn’s community service programs were started when he was serving in this position.
Nunery has also had his share of extra-educational positions. His professional background entails 16 years in corporate banking, including a position at electrical contracting firm Leroy Nunery & Sons, Inc., which was later renamed LSP Electrical Contractors, according to the District website.
Nunery has many plans for the possibly short time he will be in office.
“My immediate focus was to make sure that schools opened on time and we did that,” he said. “Now … I have been out visiting schools — talking to principals, talking to teachers, students, parents to further familiarize myself with them. They know me to some degree, but also get into some of the issues — a school that doesn’t have a library but could certainly use one, issues with buses or with food — so it sounds like its more grainy, nuts and bolts work, but that’s exactly what it should be.”
Nunery’s primary areas of focus this academic year include educational technology, career and technical education and STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs.
“What we have to do as a district is be more market responsive and to prepare students who not only will take on jobs of the 21st century — everybody says that — but quite frankly, so that they can use their critical thinking skills,” he added.
The fact that Nunery’s daughter Jackie just graduated in June from Springside School — a Philadelphia private school for girls — is a concern for many constituents. However, Nunery’s choice not to send his daughter to a public school had nothing to do with the district at all. He chose Springside because of a promise he made to his late wife Carolyn Thomas Nunery, who attended all-women Chatham University, that their daughter Jackie would have an “all-girls experience.”
“I think people try to read into it that I don’t believe what I preach. Education is more than just where you go to school — it’s what you live. So if anyone’s got an issue with that, I’m very sorry,” Nunery said.
All in all, Nunery believes he is braced for the job ahead. “This is my mission, and there is no surprise to me … that I am in education. I think what I can do, and what I hope you would want kids to do, is to bring to the forum what they’ve learned and apply it. That’s what I want to do.”