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The new Philadelphia Board of Education held their first public meeting at the School District Education Center on Broad Street on July 9. Photo: Emily Neil / AL DÍA News

The debut of the new Philadelphia Board of Education

On Monday, the nine representatives who assumed local control of the School District on July 1 introduced themselves to the community and decided on their…

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At their first public meeting since assuming local control of the School District on July 1, following more than 16 years of governance by the state-appointed School Reform Commission, the nine representatives of the new Philadelphia Board of Education marked the historic moment and looked ahead to the work they are embarking on.

The sense of anticipation was palpable among the crowd gathered in an auditorium in the School District Education Center on Broad Street. Several city officials and dozens of public speakers shared their concerns and advice for board members, while drawing attention to the most important issues that they would like to be addressed going forward.

“In 2001 I spoke at the last formal meeting of the school board. And tonight I’m so proud to speak at the first reconstitution of this board of education,” said City Councilwoman Helen Gym, noting that during that time “a grassroots movement of parents, teachers, youth and community members became an unstoppable political force for quality public schools, local control, and local accountability that helped define the politics that led to this moment.”

But the evening wasn’t just ceremonial. The new board also got down to the business of setting up how the new governance will function.

Joyce Wilkerson, former chair of the School Reform Commission, was unanimously voted to be the board’s president, and Wayne Walker was elected in a 5-4 vote to be the vice president.

The board members, who are volunteers appointed to the board by Mayor Jim Kenney after an extended nomination and selection process also decided to establish their meeting schedule and committee structure.

The board proposed a structure of four committees devoted to: finance and facilities; student achievement and support; policy; and district partnerships and community engagement.

As president of the board, Wilkerson will appoint board members to committees in July, after which they will start to hold meetings for each committee that will be open to the public and invite community participation. The board will post all relevant meeting times and information on their new website.

The board is also still seeking a non-voting student representative who would provide insight and represent the student voice on the board. Rising 11th and 12th graders must submit an application by Aug. 13 to be considered for the position.

Though throughout the course of the evening many assured the board members that their work would not be easy, the significance of their role in improving education for all children throughout the School District was also emphasized.

“This is the most important thing we can do, because everything that we deal with as a result of poverty, and dysfunction, and addiction, and the inability of people to meet their potential all starts with, all ends with a good education,” said Kenney in remarks to the board.

The board will have its next meeting on Aug. 16 at 5 p.m.

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