This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
UPDATED 9:30 p.m. with quotes from McGinley
Mayor Kenney has appointed Christopher McGinley, an associate professor in education at Temple University, to the School Reform Commission. McGinley will replace Sylvia Simms, whose term ended Jan. 13. His first SRC action meeting as a commissioner will be Thursday, Jan. 19.
“Dr. McGinley will bring a wealth of educational experience to the School Reform Commission,” Kenney said in a statement. "His educator lens is exactly what the SRC needs in order to build on the District’s gains in recent years. Dr. McGinley’s passion for public education and reducing the achievement gap, coupled with his background as an administrator for various school districts, will also help the District prepare for a smooth transition to greater local control.”
McGinley is the coordinator for the Educational Leadership Program at the Temple University College of Education, where he is an associate professor. His career in education began in the School District of Philadelphia, where he worked as a special education teacher in middle schools and high schools. He served as the principal of Adaire Elementary and later at Austin Meehan Middle School.
In 1999, McGinley left Philadelphia to take a position as the assistant superintendent in the Cheltenham Township district, where he was promoted to superintendent in 2003. As superintendent, he worked with the University of Pennsylvania to create the Delaware Valley Minority Student Achievement Consortium, dedicated to closing the achievement gap.
In 2008, he became the superintendent of Lower Merion schools — one of the nation’s highest achieving districts — and held that position until 2014. He stepped down after a series of controversies, most notably being sued by the family of a student who was disciplined by the school after an administrator used the student’s school-issued laptop to take pictures of him smoking marijuana at his home.
“I am honored that Mayor Kenney appointed me to serve on the School Reform Commission. As a Philadelphia native who attended public schools, a parent, educator, principal and superintendent, I bring 35 years of educational service to this role," said McGinley in a statement. "Public education is the single most important issue facing our city, and I look forward to working on behalf of the children and families of Philadelphia to strengthen our public schools.”
City Council member at large Helen Gym described McGinley as a "top-notch educator who understands that school transformation is not only necessary but also attainable — and that it requires the efforts and commitment of the entire community."
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan said, “Mayor Kenney’s appointment of Chris McGinley to the SRC is extremely prudent, and I commend the Mayor and his team for recognizing the importance of having a Philadelphia educator on the panel. I have known and worked with Chris over a number of years. His experience as a classroom teacher and respected administrator will serve him well in this new role."
In an interview, McGinley noted that he comes from a family of educators, with four generations who have worked in the School District — starting with his grandmother, who was a cleaning lady and then an elevator operator at Olney High School.
McGinley’s father, Dan McGinley, was a principal and then the longtime head of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, the city’s principals’ union. His sister Nancy was also a school principal in Philadelphia and subsequently the superintendent in Abington and in Charleston, South Carolina. Two of his other sisters, his daughter and a nephew have been teachers in the District.
He said his first priority is to get "up to speed" on all the issues facing the District, while considering the future of the body and the District’s governance.
"I think a return to local control is the right direction to take, but it is also something that needs to be done carefully and thoughtfully over time," he said. "The concept is appealing to almost everyone; the question is how do you design a local control situation so it capitalizes on assets of the School District and builds on the relationship and dependency the District has on the city and state. It will take time to figure that out."
He said he is leaning to some combination of elected and appointed board members, noting that elections can "capitalize on the energy and interest local community members have on the schools," including parents, and become a "launching ground" for a new generation of leadership."
One of his first SRC meetings will be to decide the fate of four new charter applications in February. "I have been around long enough to see wonderful District schools and programs and wonderful charter schools and programs," he said, and will strive toward "balancing needs and resources of the School District with the perceived benefits of charter schools. I have tried to make decisions based on clear evidence and continue to do so, and act in accordance with the law." The current charter school law says that districts must decide each charter application on its merits and not consider the impact on a district’s financial condition.
He did say that his "heart" is with traditional public schools, and that he thinks there are "great opportunities" to improve them without "reconfiguring them and moving into charters."
His appointment brings the number of the SRC members to four. Estelle Richman has been nominated by Gov. Wolf, but she awaits Senate confirmation.
Richman would replace Feather Houstoun, who left in October but whose term officially expires this week. The governor has three and the mayor two appointees to the District’s governing body.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that McGinley was leaving Temple to take this post, which is a volunteer position. He is not leaving Temple.