This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Phil Goldsmith has worn many hats in Philadelphia. He has worked in law, journalism, banking, and government. But it was Goldsmith’s position as interim CEO of the School District from 2000 to 2001 that started his relationship with the Notebook.
“I remember [Notebook editor] Paul Socolar coming to interview me. They did some short pieces on me, and that’s how I really got to see the Notebook,” Goldsmith said.
His leadership of the District took place during challenging times. He tried to counter privatization of the District, fighting Harrisburg on the plan to have Edison Schools Inc. take over schools. The District was in financial crisis, and he and others negotiated with state legislators to receive more school funding in exchange for giving the state more control and creating the School Reform Commission. Tragedy also struck under his watch when a kindergartner died as the result of a collapsed lunch table.
Through it all, Goldsmith said, the Notebook treated him fairly, and he respected the publication, known for its investigative journalism, for how it covered his time at the helm.
After leaving the District, Goldsmith supported the Notebook, donating regularly and becoming a member. In 2008, he served on a recruitment team to vet candidates for the publication’s first managing editor position. Goldsmith consistently attends the Notebook’s annual Turning the Page for Change event, which this year will be June 9 at the University of the Arts.
“The Notebook is an important force in the city because it covers public education thoroughly, unlike the other newspapers,” he said.
“I feel strongly that the Notebook is an important voice in the city, and we need that voice.”
Goldsmith, 70, is an Allentown, Pa., native who studied accounting at Penn State University and received a law degree from George Washington University. He served as Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for policy and planning from 1980 to 1982, then worked for PNC Bank for 14 years. After leading the District, he became the executive director of Fairmount Park. He also worked as the managing director for the City of Philadelphia from 2003 to 2005.
Goldsmith, who has two adult children, has also served as a columnist for the Daily News and has written for the Philadelphia Inquirer. As a journalist, he has kept a close eye on city government, but also public education, writing about former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and the salaries of District employees. He has also been openly critical of the SRC.
Goldsmith continues to write about city government and has most recently written a series for the Inquirer on this year’s Philadelphia mayoral campaign. But for him, the issue of education is still at the forefront.
“There is nothing more important for the city of Philadelphia than education,” he said.
If you ask Goldsmith, the prime source for people to learn about what is happening in schools is the Notebook.
“If you want to be involved in public policy issues regarding education, I don’t know how you can do that without reading the Notebook,” he said.
“People should imagine what would happen if the Notebook didn’t exist, [so] I hope people support the Notebook.”