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Brady and Dungee Glenn move up as old guard exits

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

It was a summer of exits.

In the wake of departures of top management staff, a team of interim officials headed by interim CEO Tom Brady has taken the reins at District headquarters, seeking to whittle away at the massive budget deficit they inherited. The search for a new CEO is underway.

The exodus of top leaders from the School District has given Governor Ed Rendell new clout in the District via his authority to make appointments to the five-member School Reform Commission.

Turnover at top levels of the District seemed almost total after the resignation of SRC Chair James Nevels in August, less than four months after CEO Paul Vallas stepped down. Other recent departures included Chief Academic Officer Gregory Thornton and Chief Financial Officer Folasade Olanipekun.

After Vallas announced his resignation in April, Rendell publicly expressed his displeasure with Nevels’ role in the resignation and spoke of replacing him as chair.

Upon Nevels’ resignation from the SRC, Rendell promptly appointed one of the few remaining veteran leaders – Commissioner Sandra Dungee Glenn – to assume the role of chair. Dungee Glenn has served on the SRC since Mayor Street appointed her to the newly formed body in 2002, and immediately before that did a two-year stint on the school board.

The appointment of Dungee Glenn won widespread praise from education advocates. Carol Fixman, executive director of the Philadelphia Education Fund, said, “She has shown her leadership in the School Reform Commission. She’s experienced, knowledgeable, dedicated, and she’s passionate about Philadelphia children.”

Greg Wade, president of the citywide Philadelphia Home and School Council, applauded the choice, saying that parents have found her more accessible than Nevels. “We’re hoping that Sandra Dungee Glenn stays open to parental involvement. She’s always listened to what we had to say, and her votes on the budget this year reflected that,” he said.

For the second time this year, Rendell has an opportunity to name a member to the commission to fill Nevels’ seat. His first appointee, Denise Armbrister, joined the SRC in May. The appointments give him significant influence in the selection of a new CEO. Rendell’s staff has also been meeting regularly with District officials to address the budget shortfall.

The changes in the SRC mark a major political shift for the body this year. Nevels was one of three appointees of former Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker. Along with Commissioner James Gallagher and former Commissioner Dan Whelan, Nevels forged a voting bloc that orchestrated an unprecedented privatization of school management at 45 low-performing schools in 2002. Skeptical about funding the District bureaucracy, they pursued a new vision for the school system that emphasized charter schools and outsourcing of functions to the private sector. Of this trio, only Gallagher remains on the SRC.

In contrast, Dungee Glenn has been a critic of the privatization of school management and has prioritized teacher quality and issues of equity within the District. She now has an opportunity to construct a new majority vision and direction for the SRC.

Rounding out the District’s new management team, along with Brady, are three more “interims”: Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones, Chief Financial Officer Jim Doosey, and Chief Operating Officer Fred Farlino. Interim CEO Brady previously served for just three months as chief operating officer, a position similar to one he held in the District of Columbia public schools.

Brady has earned some positive marks for his initial performance, which is “a step in the right direction,” said Aissia Richardson of Parents United for Public Education. The group has met with the interim CEO about the budget and other issues. “He’s shown he’s open to dialogue; he’s shown he has an open-door policy,” Richardson added.

Brady has declared himself a candidate for the permanent CEO post. One other widely discussed potential candidate is former SRC member and current Pennsylvania Secretary of the Budget Michael Masch, a key member of Rendell’s team in Harrisburg.

Rumors that Rendell has settled on Masch to be the District’s next CEO are “patently inaccurate,” according to Donna Cooper, the governor’s director of policy.

The CEO search is not expected to conclude until the end of 2007, meaning that the city’s next mayor will have an opportunity to weigh in on the choice.

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