This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The newest member of the School Reform Commission is also the first member in its 13-year history who is a career educator.
Marjorie Neff retired in June after 38 years with the District, including eight years as principal of Masterman, one of its flagship magnet schools.
Neff, in an interview, said that she had planned in retirement to continue to advocate for more funds for Philadelphia schools. As a principal, she saw how the unremitting cuts and layoffs of the past few years have disrupted teaching and learning. Masterman has lost 30 percent of its staff since 2011.
When Mayor Nutter asked her to serve on the SRC, she felt she couldn’t refuse. Neff attended her first SRC meeting on Aug. 28.
Although she says she can offer many insights as a lifelong educator, Neff doesn’t expect to be giving much advice on specific policies to Superintendent William Hite. Instead, she said, “I want to make sure there is congruence between, ‘What does it mean to transform schools?’ and ‘How much is it going to cost?’”
She said she has been distressed that Hite has been forced to build his priorities around “trying to make things work when you don’t have the money,” instead of expanding on his vision.
And while she thinks that there need to be some changes in the teachers’ contract, she worries about what she called Harrisburg’s strategy of “demonizing the very people who have responsibility for making changes” in schools. Gov. Corbett has repeatedly talked about union concessions as a condition of increasing state aid to the District. The SRC is seeking benefit and work-rule concessions, but has dropped a demand that teachers take a pay cut.
Attacking teachers, Neff said, makes it harder to keep and attract the best ones. How can the District do that, she said, “if the narrative is that everything is their fault?”
A resident of Mount Airy, the Pittsburgh native started out as a social studies teacher and later became certified in special education. Before becoming principal of Masterman, she was principal of Powel Elementary. Her two sons attended Philadelphia public schools.
Neff’s term runs until January 2017. She replaces Wendell Pritchett, who resigned in July. She is the third new commissioner named this year. Chair Bill Green and Commissioner Farah Jimenez were appointed by Gov. Corbett in January.