This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Commissioner Dworetzky has been a member of the SRC since 2009. (Photo: Harvey Finkle) Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky has announced that his term on the School Reform Commission expires on Saturday and that Thursday is his last meeting. His departure leaves the SRC with just three members.
Dworetzky, who was appointed by former Gov. Ed Rendell, could have stayed until his replacement was seated, which could take months. Gov. Corbett has not made appointments to fill either his seat or that of Pedro Ramos, who resigned as chair in October for family reasons.
Commissioners must be approved by the state Senate, and for previous appointees, including Ramos, that process took months.
Corbett is due to visit Philadelphia on Friday morning to declare three high-performing District schools as Governor’s Schools of Excellence — Central, Masterman and Carver. A knowledgeable Harrisburg source said Thursday only that the SRC appointments will be made "soon."
One name mentioned to replace Ramos as chair is City Councilman Bill Green, who has declined to comment directly but who has given several interviews on his ideas for education reform. Three names have been mentioned as possible commissioners: Farah Jiminez, executive director of the People’s Emergency Center; Al Mezzaroba, former head of the Convention Center, and Keith Leaphart, a doctor and entrepreneur.
Dworetzky has been the most aggressive questioner on the commission regarding the letting of contracts, charter renewals, the Renaissance turnaround initiative, and other issues. He said that although he was often hard on District staff, he appreciated their hard work.
In a short speech at the beginning of Thursday’s SRC meeting, Dworetzky asked Superintendent William Hite and the remaining commissioners to fight for more stable funding for the District. He termed as "horrible" the current situation, which has resulted in severe cuts in counselors and other school personnel.
He also said that the charter school law, which has not been substantially revised in 16 years, has "brought the District to its knees." He urged engaging more stakeholders so they fully understand how dire the District’s situation is.
He said that the District’s Renaissance Schools turnaround program is crucial, but that it should not be about moving students around, but improving neighborhood schools.. He emphasized that this effort should include not just charter conversions but a real commitment to Promise Academies, or District-run turnarounds.
"I am not a supporter of the Renaissance initiative if it is just to do Renaissance charters," he said in an earlier interview with the Notebook. "Promise Academies are crucial."
But he said that the District has not done a good job managing exactly what "Promise Academies are and what the District-led turnaround approach is and should be."
Overall, he said in the interview, while the turnaround initiative "is still not what we would want, parts of it appear to be pretty successful. There has been substantial climate change in schools. Mastery, especially, has made significant test score gains. We shouldn’t miss this, clearly some things have worked. Compared to where we were in the beginning, there are strategies that are successful … so something important is happening here."