This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Philadelphia natives Deidre and Larry Farmbry believe that the Notebook’s ability to provide thorough and accurate coverage is what sets the publication apart from other resources that cover public education.
Their relationship with the Notebook began 15 years ago, when the publication was only four years old.
Deidre, 61, is a product of Philadelphia public schools who spent 28 years working at all levels of the School District, including interim superintendent. She remembers first seeing the Notebook in school meetings.
“I have always been attracted to the Notebook from the time I was school-based. When it arrived I always read it,” she said. More recently, she did a stint as a member of the Notebook’s editorial advisory board.
“We’ve always been impressed with the Notebook,” added Larry.
Larry, 62, is a certified financial planner who also heads his own company, L.W. Farmbry & Associates. He received his bachelor’s degree from Temple University in 1975 and a master’s in taxation from the Washington School of Law in 1991.
Larry said he has shared the Notebook with clients who needed information about selecting high schools for their children. Deidre said she has used the print editions in teaching college courses and in mentoring school leaders. Deidre recalled winning a complete set of back issues of the newspaper in a silent auction at a Notebook fundraiser.
A Germantown High and Temple graduate, Deidre began working as an English teacher at Simon Gratz High School in 1974. She headed the school’s English department from 1985 to 1988.
She worked as a special assistant to former District Superintendent Constance E. Clayton for five years and in 1996 became the “cluster leader” for nine schools in the Roxborough region. She earned a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
Highly regarded as a communicator and community builder who knew the system top to bottom, she was named the District’s first chief academic officer in 2000. In the turbulent 2001-02 school year, when the state took over Philadelphia schools, she was named interim superintendent when interim CEO Phil Goldsmith resigned. She stepped down in June 2002 after the School Reform Commission turned dozens of schools over to private management firms and slashed the central office.
Currently, Deidre is a self-employed freelance consultant. She works on education projects nationally such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning in Chicago, where she focuses on social and emotional learning for students. She also works with the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color.
The couple have found ways to become significant supporters of the Notebook. Not only have they given donations, but they have also helped the publication raise funds through their support of Notebook house parties. These are events that the Notebook holds at the homes of its members, inviting those concerned about the city’s public schools to hear about the nonprofit news organization – and the importance to its work of membership contributions and other donations.
The Farmbrys encouraged a long list of friends to attend a recent house party in Mount Airy and support the work of the Notebook.
The two have also been attendees at the Notebook’s Turning the Page for Change event, an annual fundraiser held in June, which also celebrates education activism and student journalism. Next spring, the Notebook will celebrate 20 years of publishing and reporting on public education (see p. 14).
Deidre and Larry said that given the District’s current financial situation, the Notebook’s coverage is all the more important, adding that there’s no other education-based publication like it.
Larry said that the right to free education here in Philadelphia has been held hostage. He said that though the state took over District schools 12 years ago, the way that funding is distributed to those schools has not improved.
“How can you take over something and make it worse?” he asked.
“It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to take you over and then let you fail,’ Deidre added.
The Farmbrys said they hope to become more involved in the Notebook in the future because “we believe in the paper and love their comprehensive coverage of the Philadelphia School District.”