This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
On a frigid January morning nearly halfway through a school year marked by draconian cuts to services and staff, Gov. Corbett — plagued by a low approval rating and an impending November election — braved the eastbound lanes of the Turnpike to make his first gubernatorial appearance at a Philadelphia traditional public school.
At least that’s the way it was written up in the playbook.
Instead, in a last-minute audible, Corbett changed the event’s venue to his office at the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and changed the news narrative to his nomination of two new School Reform Commission members who he said would bring the city "fresh talent and true dedication."
Corbett selected Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Green to chair the SRC and Farah Jimenez, leader of West Philadelphia’s People’s Emergency Center, to replace outgoing Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky.
Green will fill the spot left vacant when Pedro Ramos resigned in October.
Of Green, Corbett told reporters that "he has a long history of public involvement, holding fast to the idea that public involvement, public service is an honorable calling. … It must always be for doing what’s best for the people."
Of Jimenez, Corbett said, "like Bill, she has a notable history of public service and personal accomplishment, ranging from a law degree from Penn to a career devoted to lifting people out of poverty. Clearly, Farah is a woman with a talent for confronting complex problems and finding ways to help people affected by them."
Green called the appointment "an opportunity to do something for the city of Philadelphia that can have us approach two million citizens again in 40 or 50 years."
Before assuming the SRC posts, Green and Jimenez will need the approval of the Pennsylvania Senate.
Although he didn’t want to discuss specifics until conferencing with Superintendent William Hite, Green confirmed that his tenure as SRC chair would reflect the philosophy of the education-related position papers he’s published in recent years. In those, he imagines a Philadelphia’s system of public education that’s much more friendly to charter schools and much less so to teachers’ unions.
Asked his opinion of the SRC’s power to impose contract terms on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, who have been working under an expired contract since Aug. 31, Green said:
"The SRC has broad powers to do what it needs to do … and it should use all of the powers that it has to ensure that it’s doing the best it can for the city’s children. … We have some great schools and teachers in Philadelphia. We have some poor-performing teachers and schools in Philadelphia. We should have none of them."
Farah Jimenez, works with a population of homeless women – 60 percent of whom, she says, have incomplete educations. She said there’s "nothing more important to combat homelessness than creating great schools."
Her respect for Hite, she says, "sealed the deal" for her accepting the unpaid, often emotionally draining post, "despite all the thoughtful people in my life who thought it was the craziest notion I could ever undertake."
Reactions were mixed to Corbett’s appointments.