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School District of Philadelphia. Photo: Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News
School District of Philadelphia. Photo: Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News

Nominating panel members call for diversity, representation in new school board

“We ideally are working towards a much more responsive board that understands the needs of the community better, but is also accountable as they are from our…

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This story appeared in the January 31, 2018, issue of AL DÍA

Peter Gonzales and Rev. Bonnie Camarda, two prominent advocates for Latino and immigrant education, are calling for diverse, representative governance of the School District of Philadelphia. Both are members of the education nominating panel — a group that will play a key role in establishing Philadelphia’s new Board of Education in the coming weeks. 

Gonzales, president and CEO of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, said that the role of the nominating panel is “to ensure that the ultimate school board consists not only of the best possible candidates, but is also a very diverse and inclusive school board that reflects the population that our city schools are serving.” 

Fellow nominating panel member Rev. Bonnie Camarda agreed. 

“The new board has to look like how the city looks like proportionally. It should be a reflection of the kids that are going to school,” said Camarda,  director of partnerships for The Salvation Army of East Pennsylvania and Delaware and board member of Nueva Esperanza Community Development Corporation, which established Esperanza College and Esperanza Academy Charter School. 

“We ideally are working towards a much more responsive board that understands the needs of the community better, but is also accountable as they are from our community,” Gonzales said of the benefits of establishing local control. 

According to the School District’s published data on OpenDataPhilly, nearly half of the over 200,000 students in the School District in 2017-2018 are black, and 20 percent are Hispanic. If given proportional representation, at least one of the nine board of education members would be Hispanic. 

Camarda said that local control also means responsibility and accountability for Latino, immigrant, and other underrepresented communities in the city. 

“It’s been too easy at times to say well we don’t have control,” Camarda said of the past 16 years of governance by the state-run School Reform Commission. But, she adds, the new board “means we have control, and that means we need to perform and do whatever it takes to make sure our children are educated.” 

One way Latinos and all city residents can begin to exercise that control, Camarda said, is through nominating members of the new school board via an online portal or paper form before Feb. 7. The form for nominating someone else is available in both Spanish and English (as well as Arabic, Chinese, Khmer, and Vietnamese), while the self-nomination form is available only in English. 

‘A call for public service’ 

Both Camarda and Gonzales said that though it is hard work, they are honored to serve on the panel.

“This was a call for public service and the work that I do at the Welcoming Center and in my professional career has been devoted to helping people in Philadelphia have better access to opportunities — so it was a natural response to the call to serve,” Gonzales said. 

In addition to recruiting nominees themselves, the nominating panel is charged with sorting through over 100 applications that have been submitted. 

“We’re giving all our time to the process to be able to have a good process and a clear process so that we can say at the end of the day we have good candidates,” Camarda said, who noted that panel members will devote much of their time in February to selecting candidates before announcing the final 27 nominees on Feb. 28. 

Mayor Kenney will then appoint nine of the 27 to the school board in March, with the new board expected to officially take the reins July 1. 

Though aware of the challenges facing the new board members, who will be taking over management of a school district that is the eighth largest in the U.S. with an annual operating budget of $3 billion, Gonzales said he is hopeful. 

“It’s a really exciting moment in our city right now,” Gonzales said. “To take control and responsibility. This is just the very beginning.” 

“Education is the building block of a successful city,” he said.

 

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