Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett, along with 12 other significant figures in Philadelphia, will contribute to the selection of the Philadelphia School District’s first-ever Board of Education.
The 13-person group, entitled the “Education Nominating Panel,” was appointed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and given the task of nominating 27 potential BOE members.
Kenney will then select the 9-person BOE from those nominees, which will be responsible for a district that includes thousands of Philadelphia children.
Members of the board will be responsible for improving a school district which has the eighth largest student enrollment in the nation and which is projected to incur nearly a $1 billion deficit by the fiscal year 2022. The board will be facing a projected $105 million deficit in the fiscal year 2019.
According to a report released by Kenney's office in November 2017, the board members should be chosen early this year to ensure their preparation for the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
Any Philadelphian who is registered to vote is eligible to serve on the board.
“I am honored that Mayor Kenney entrusted me, along with twelve other institutional and community leaders, with the responsibility of serving on this important panel,” Pritchett wrote in an email. “We have been given the vital task of helping to find the best citizens of Philadelphia to serve on our city's first Board of Education.”
This is not the first time Pritchett has worked with the Philadelphia School District.
He has served on a variety of committees, including the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, and was appointed to the School Reform Commission, from which he chose to resign in 2014.
The SRC, which took control of the city on behalf of the state in 2001, voted to disband in November 2017, directly leading to the formation of the nominating panel.
Farah Jimenez, 1990 College graduate and 1996 Law graduate, worked with Pritchett on the SRC. Jimenez will serve on the SRC in an official capacity until July 2018, when the new school board is seated. She is also president of the Philadelphia Education Fund.
“Wendell is very thoughtful, a straight shooter, and has a sense of self. He is just very clear about what he believes in,” said Jimenez, “and when you’re serving on a body like that, that’s small, there’s only five of us, who are making decisions that 200,000 plus children, the decisions are weighty, and you need to be working with people who you feel have good judgement.”
Jimenez abstained in the vote to disband the SRC, as she “did not feel comfortable” saying that the school district was not under any fiscal distress, a component of the vote.
Pritchett wrote that his role on the panel is “an especially meaningful responsibility,” as he is the father of two Philadelphia public school students, and both of his parents taught in the district.
The mayor’s office selected Pritchett for a variety of reasons, including his commitment to education and his role at Penn, according to the Mayor's Chief of Staff, Jane Slusser.
“Wendell understands what’s gonna make a good board member,” Slusser said. “He understands the challenges because he’s been in that position before.”
Slusser noted that the panel was designed such that nine of the members would be individuals with high-ranking positions in the city, while the other four would be Philadelphians deeply involved in the school district.
As a result, the panel boasts a diverse array of members, including Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware President Dan Fitzpatrick, Director of Partnerships for The Salvation Army of Eastern Penn. and Dela. Bonnie Camarada, various parent activists, and part time Temple University senior Kimberly Pham.
Pham spends much of her time doing advocacy work on behalf of vulnerable and underrepresented youth populations.
“My experience is gonna be able to drive me to look for leaders who really are passionate and have integrity about our young people and the systems that they go through to look for certain opportunities,” Pham said.
Although the panel has only met once so far, Pham was already familiar with Pritchett’s work on the SRC.
Initially, the forms were said to remain open until Jan. 31; however, the deadline was extended to Feb. 7 so the mayor’s office could “give everybody a chance to apply who was interested,” said Slusser.
She estimated that over 200 people have applied so far.
The Education Nomination Panel will review the applications and conduct interviews.
“There’s a lot that goes into this process, but we’re trying to do this in a timely manner and execute this within 40 days,” Pham said.
Penn encourages student interactions with the city of Philadelphia, even calling it “our extended classroom” on the Penn admissions website. Pritchett continues to send this message through his role in the city’s education system.
“Penn has an essential role to play in advancing education across our city,” Pritchett said, “and I look forward to the university’s being part of many more such advancements in the years ahead.”
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