This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Mayor Kenney unveiled his new Board of Education Wednesday — a group of six women and three men that includes social workers, a pediatrician, several educators, one expert in finance and another in governance.
As expected, Kenney named Joyce Wilkerson and Christopher McGinley, members of the School Reform Commission; they resigned last week in anticipation of being appointed to the new board, which will take over from the SRC on July 1.
Two of the nine board members have children who attend schools in the District, and one is a charter school parent.
One helps operate a restaurant with her husband and another is the sister of the head of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.
None of the seven new names has a history of activism or is well known in the usual Philadelphia education circles. And unlike most past boards, there are no practicing lawyers. (Wilkerson has a law degree.) In crafting his board, Kenney bypassed people put forth by the Our City Our Schools coalition, offered specifically for their advocacy on behalf of public schools.
But in announcing his choices, Kenney said they comprise “a strong group of individuals with a passion for public education in Philadelphia.”
The new members expressed both excitement and trepidation as they prepare to assume their policymaking role in the area that Kenney called more important than any other for the future of the city.
“I am incredibly nervous,” said Mallory Fix Lopez, who has taught English as a Second Language in both public school and college and helps run a restaurant in Point Breeze with her husband. She plans to send her preschooler to her local elementary school, Childs, and is active in its community group.
“I have always been a voice in the wilderness,” said Leticia Egea-Hinton, a longtime advocate for the homeless who was the first in her family to graduate from high school. “My hope is that we will not only learn, we will listen.”
Learning and listening was a major theme among the new appointees, who will begin their orientation and embark on a series of community meetings April 25 at Dobbins CTE High School in North Philadelphia.
Only Julia Danzy, among the new members, spoke about a specific issue she’d like to work on: improving coordination between city social services for children and the schools.
“Many of our children have emotional problems, not mental health problems, and unless we can address those, we are not going to be able to move the needle,” said Danzy, a social worker and administrator who is a former deputy commissioner for children’s services in the Philadelphia Health Department. She has also worked for City Council and the state Department of Welfare.
“I’ve seen our educational system assume a lot of responsibilities that rightly belong to other agencies,” she said, “and it’s time for us to begin working together to become a more cohesive body in the education of our children.”
Longtime education observers noted there weren’t many from their milieu in the final nine.
David Hardy, co-founder of Boys Latin Charter School and a school choice proponent, said he didn’t recognize many of the names on the new board.
“There are no advocates on this board,” said Hardy. “I’m OK with that.”
“I think having new faces in this space, new ideas, new perspectives in this space is a good thing,” he continued. “The space has been a little too incestuous.”
Others, however, did take issue with a board that features few familiar names from the local education activist community.
“It feels like there’s a little bit of disconnect, especially because there were so many amazing community leaders that were put forward by community organizations and advocacy groups,” said Miguel Andrade with the immigrant-rights group JUNTOS, which was part of the Our City Our Schools Coalition. “It’s just disappointing to see that not a single one of those people was able to be on.”
Lisa Haver of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools was concerned that none of the new members appeared to have children in the most stressed city schools.
Two of the new members, Lee Huang and Angela McIver, have children who attend Penn-Alexander, an elementary school in University City that gets extra help and dollars from the University of Pennsylvania. McIver also has a child at Central High School.
“I don’t see any parents from a struggling school who knows those issues of having a school charterized or closed, or deal with regular underfunding,” she said.
The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools complained throughout the process that the public should have had input into the selection and at least the ability to get to know the candidates before they were appointed. Kenney made his selections from 45 names given to him by an education nominating panel that he also appointed.
“If that process had been opened, we would have had a chance to really vet these people, know who they are, get to know where they stand on public education. We’re not seeing any people that we would identify as public school advocates,” Haver said.
Board members generally demurred when asked their opinions on major education policy questions such as funding and charter schools, saying they needed to hear first from community members.
“I’m going to keep an open mind,” said appointee Lee Huang. “I have a lot to learn.”
Said Wayne Walker: “Every school has a whole bunch of issues. We need to just get out there, and see what’s going on.”
At first glance, it appears two of the appointees have direct connections to Philadelphia’s charter sector, which now educates about a third of the city’s public school students.
Maria McColgan, a pediatrician, has two daughters at Philadelphia Academy Charter School in the Northeast. Angela McIver helped found Mastery Charter Schools, the city’s largest charter network.
McColgan said school choice is a “reasonable option,” but refrained from making any broad statements about charters.
“I think there’s a lot we need to look at, but I don’t have the answers yet,” she said.
McColgan acknowledged that finances are always a major issue for the District, but even that area is a bit of an unknown right now. Mayor Kenney has proposed a funding package, including a property tax increase, that would give the district a five-year financial cushion. It’s unclear whether that proposal will withstand City Council scrutiny; it has already been modified once. Depending on how the debate unfolds, the new board could take power July 1 with five years of balanced books on its horizon — or a looming fiscal crisis.
The board members will spend the next three months learning about the District, and about each other, through a series of orientations. The nine members did not meet each other until the morning of the announcement.
“We had no idea,” said McColgan. “It was a secret reveal.”
Kenney had sole discretion over this first round of school board appointments. While several City Council members, including Council President Darrell Clarke, attended Wednesday’s announcement, it’s unclear what say they had in the vetting process. If a proposed charter change goes through, City Council will have veto power over future school board appointments.
The below biographies of the new school board members were put together by the Mayor’s Office of Education. Some include additional reporting.
Julia Danzy has deep knowledge and a strong commitment to the welfare of Philadelphia’s children. Julia has attended Howard University and has received a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and a master’s in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, Philadelphia City Council, and has served as deputy commissioner for children services in the Philadelphia Health Department.
A bilingual speaker of both English and Spanish, Leticia Egea-Hinton has attended Chestnut Hill College, Alvernia University, and received a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently teaches classes on social welfare at Alvernia. In her career, she has worked in Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services/Adult Services, Office of Emergency Shelter and Services, and most recently was the assistant managing director for the Office of Supportive Housing. She has been an advisory board member at PHMC/Care Clinic and is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and a board member of Trinity Health/Nazareth Hospital. Egea-Hinton was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents.
Mallory Fix Lopez
Mallory Fix Lopez has lived in Philadelphia for 15 years, having moved here to pursue both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. During her graduate work, she studied Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and concentrated in curriculum, instruction, and technology in education. She has both taught and volunteered in Philadelphia public schools in social studies and English-as-a-second-language (ESL). More recently, she has served as the ESL director and program founder at the Garces Foundation and taught at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and currently the Community College of Philadelphia. Lopez also helps run a restaurant in Point Breeze along with her husband, a chef. She’s worked extensively with the community group at George W. Childs School and plans to send her oldest child there when he is school-aged. Lopez is a first-generation college graduate who attend public schools in Lancaster, Pa.
Lee Huang has lived in Philadelphia for more than 26 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at the Wharton Business School and a master’s in public administration from the Fels Institute of Government, both at the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked at The Enterprise Center and currently is senior vice president and principal at Econsult Solutions. He has served on the board of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia Advisory Board, and the Urban Affairs Coalition Impact Development Roundtable Committee Leadership. He has three children, two of whom attend the Penn Alexander School and one who will attend Penn Alexander. Mr. Huang is also a current member of the Philadelphia Water Rate Board. He runs a blog called “The Musings of an Urban Christian.”
A mother of two children, Maria has taught at three Philadelphia public schools. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education as well as a medical degree from the Temple University School of Medicine. She works for the CARES Institute at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine. Before that, she worked at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children while pursuing training in child abuse pediatrics. She has served on the boards of the PA Children’s Trust Fund, Philadelphia Academy Charter School, and Prevent Child Abuse (of which she was the founding chairperson). McColgan’s husband, Joseph McColgan, is a former congressional and city council candidate who now heads SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School in South Philadelphia. McColgan’s brother, Val DiGiorgio, chairs the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.
Wayne Walker is president of Walker Nell Partners Inc., an international business consulting firm with a focus on corporate governance, turnaround management, corporate restructuring and bankruptcy matters. Walker has extensive experience sitting on the boards of large and complex organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and the National Philanthropic Trust. Originally from Macon, GA, he attended Loyola University in New Orleans, and Catholic University in Washington, DC. In naming him, Kenney noted that he, like the mayor, was educated by the Jesuits. He moved to Philadelphia in 1989.
Angela McIver has been a resident of Philadelphia for 25 years and has three children who attend Philadelphia public schools. She holds a history degree from Hampton University, a master’s degree in education from Temple University, and a doctorate in mathematics education from the University of Pennsylvania. She has served on the board of the University City Arts League and is currently on the board of the nonprofit How I Decide. She has taught in the Norristown Area School District, directed the Upward Bound program at both Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, directed the Mastery Charter Thomas School transition, and founded the Trapezium Math Club. This research-based company focuses on helping children build strong foundational math skills through engaging after-school programming. McIver also helped found Mastery Charter Schools, according to an online bio.
Chris McGinley is the product of Philadelphia schools, and comes from a family of educators. He is currently coordinator for the Educational Leadership Program at Temple University, where he is an associate professor. Chris became a mayoral appointee to the School Reform Commission in January 2017 and in that year helped to shepherd significant progress for the District, including a new contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the decision to return the District to local control. Chris has experience as a Philadelphia public school teacher, principal and District-level administrator. He has also served as a superintendent in Lower Merion and Cheltenham Township. Chris earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple University in elementary education, a master’s in special education from Antioch University, and a Ph.D. in organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. He has served on the boards of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Research for Action, and the National Adoption Center.
Joyce Wilkerson has an extensive career in public service. She was most recently a mayoral appointee and chair of the School Reform Commission, where she oversaw milestones such as the creation of a new teachers’ contract and the return to local control. Joyce started off in Philadelphia as an attorney with Community Legal Services, and later was chief of staff to Mayor Street. She helped to stabilize the Philadelphia Gas Works and chaired the board of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. She is a member of the board at the Merchant Fund, Scribe Video Center, Brandywine Workshop and Committee of Seventy. Joyce earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
Dates and times for the listening sessions are:
Wednesday, April 25 (6-8 p.m.) at Dobbins CTE High School (2150 W. Lehigh Ave.)
Saturday, May 5 (2-4 p.m.) at South Philadelphia Library (1700 South Broad St.)
Thursday, May 10 (6-8 p.m.) at Blackwell Regional Library West (125 S. 52nd St.)
Friday, May 18 (6-8 p.m.) at Coleman Regional Library (68 W. Chelten Ave.)
Wednesday, May 23 (6-8 p.m.) at Northeast Regional Library (2228 Cottman Ave.)
More transition information about the Board of Education, including full biographies of the appointees and an up-to-date list of upcoming listening sessions, is available here.