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Mayor Kenney nominates three new members to Philadelphia school board

Lisa Salley, left, Reginald L. Streater, center, and Cecelia Thompson were nominated by Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday to fill three vacant seats on the city’s school board.
City of Philadelphia / Parents United for Public Education

Mayor Jim Kenney nominated three new members to the Board of Education Wednesday, choosing a pioneering scientist, a long-time special education advocate, and an attorney active in the American Civil Liberties Union.

These appointments would round out the membership of the nine-member board, which has operated with at least one vacancy since April. The City Council must now vote whether or not to approve the mayor’s selections.

All the appointees are Black, and Streater will be the only male on the board if all receive the Council’s okay.

The new appointments, all graduates of the Philadelphia district, are Lisa Salley, a metallurgical engineer and business executive who lives in Germantown; Reginald L. Streater, an attorney on the board of the local ACLU and parent of two district students; and Cecelia Thompson, the mother of a 22-year-old with autism who recently graduated from the system.

Philadelphia is the only district in the state where the school board is appointed by the mayor, rather than elected.

Salley, a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls who earned degrees from Carnegie Mellon and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, started her career as a nuclear scientist. She specializes in energy innovation and public safety. Salley has worked for corporations including General Electric and Dow, and consulted with governments and organizations around business development and risk management. She also coaches girls soccer at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church and is a genealogy researcher who has delved into her own Gullah background

In a statement released by the mayor’s office, Salley said the COVID-19 pandemic has “taught us critical lessons that have implications for K-12 education,” exposing a stark digital divide. “We must provide all of our children the confidence to learn and an education that prepares them to be global citizens who embrace technology to make a positive impact on society,” she said.

Streater is an attorney at Archer & Greiner, P.C. who clerked for Chief Judge Theodore McKee in the Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals and worked with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which seeks to free wrongfully convicted prisoners. He serves as the Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia ACLU Executive Board and has spearheaded an effort to make the ACLU more accessible to the Black community by planning and executing programming and outreach in Germantown. He attended two district schools that have since been shuttered: Leeds Middle School and Germantown High School.

“I truly believe that public education should be considered not only a civil right, but also a human right,” he said. “To serve Philadelphia in this manner is something I do not take lightly.”

Thompson has spent 16 years as a special education advocate and has been a fixture at meetings of the board and its predecessor, the state-controlled School Reform Commission. She is chairperson of the Philadelphia Right to Education Local Task Force, secretary for the Governor’s Special Education Advisory Panel, a recent appointee to the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and a member of the parent and community advisory group created by the City Council to advise the school board.

A graduate of Girls High, Thompson is pursuing a Masters in Special Education at Grand Canyon University.

“I strive to be a voice for the voiceless,” she said of her appointment. “I believe the greatest gift we can provide all our children is the gift of a high-quality education. And, the success of every student is the involvement and positive engagement of families, who are equal partners with the schools in educating their children.”

Kenney selected the appointees from a list of nine nominees recommended by the mayor’s educational nominating panel earlier this month. The mayor’s office said that 82 individuals had applied to fill the three board vacancies.

Each of his choices “will bring a valuable set of skills and diverse experiences to the table,” the mayor said in a statement “I was inspired by their passion for public education and their eagerness to take on this critical work.”

Lisa Haver of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools has criticized the nominating process as lacking transparency and violating the state Sunshine Act. The nominating panel held two public meetings, an organizing session in November and then to announce the names of the nine people it would submit to the mayor. But its deliberations were all private and the names of all the applicants were not made public. Also, it was disclosed that one of its members did not live within the city, a violation of the city charter.

Haver said Thompson was “a great choice,” adding that she didn’t know the other nominees. But she reiterated that “this was a tainted process.”

Outside of Philadelphia, the state’s 499 other school districts all have elected boards.

The new members will replace Chris McGinley, who resigned in April; Ahmed Akbar, who left in September; and Lee Huang, who plans to step down as soon as his successor is seated.

The City Council is expected to take up the nominations after it convenes in January.

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