This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
UPDATED 10:50 p.m. with comment from Mayor Kenney
Christopher McGinley, a longtime educator with deep roots in Philadelphia who went on to lead school districts in Cheltenham and Lower Merion, said Thursday he was resigning from the Board of Education, effective April 30.
McGinley attributed the decision to personal reasons, saying that he is the main caregiver for several elderly relatives, including his parents and an uncle, and their increasing and time-consuming needs leave him with too little time to devote as much attention to the job as he would like.
“I’ve had a change in personal circumstances,” he said.
The decision wasn’t made lightly.
“I’m very sad, actually,” he said of leaving. “I have great affection for the District and the people who work in it.”
From a large Irish family, McGinley, 61, attended Northeast Philly public schools, Disston Elementary and Lincoln High School. In 1981, shortly out of college, he started as a special education teacher in the Philadelphia School District and went on to become principal of two schools, Adaire Elementary and Austin Meehan Middle School.
In 1999, McGinley became associate superintendent in Cheltenham Township, where he led an effort to close a persistent academic achievement gap between the middle-class district’s white and African American students. In 2003, he was promoted to superintendent.
He subsequently became superintendent in the Lower Merion district, where he served from 2008 to 2014 and weathered several controversies, including one in which a student 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.
McGinley’s father is Daniel McGinley, longtime head of the District’s principals’ union, which was then called the Philadelphia Association of School Administrators. Nearly all of his siblings went into education; his sister Nancy was superintendent in Abington and in Charleston, S.C. Other siblings have been teachers and principals in Philadelphia.
“We have been in the business for a long time, in classrooms and board rooms and boiler rooms,” McGinley said of his family.
Mayor Kenney first appointed him to the School Reform Commission in 2017, and a year later, when the District reverted to local control, he chose McGinley as one of the nine new Board of Education members.
He said he thought that supporting the transition from the SRC to the local board “was probably the way in which I contributed the most. I had experience working with school boards as a superintendent. Other trainers came from other places, but me being there and guiding the work in day-to-day conversations with members as they transitioned was a way in which I think I helped.”
On the board and the SRC, he was a dissenting voice against increasing privatization of services in schools.
“I did do that,” he said. “I believe in the profession, and I believe that efforts to privatize undermine the profession. I’m not opposed to privatizing services that others might be able to do better, like transportation and food service, but I have strong opposition to outsourcing teaching or leadership or leadership development. They are fundamental and need to be strengthened internally. Bringing people in with little knowledge of the District and commitment to the people is an absurd practice.”
At the last board meeting, he voted against a contract with Teach for America, an organization that places mostly young college graduates in difficult teaching jobs after a summer of training.
After leaving Lower Merion, McGinley became the coordinator of educational leadership in Temple University’s School of Education and will remain in that job. He said he would also stay involved in the District through a principal residency grant supervised by others in his department.
“I will be able to continue to work to support the District in my capacity as a professor at Temple,” he said.
Before he joined the SRC, his department also had some other grant funding for leadership programs that he will now be able to pursue.
News of his resignation brought statements of dismay from several educational advocacy organizations, who counted on him to be a reliable watchdog over the District’s administration, a knowledgeable expert on curriculum and school operations, and a no-nonsense evaluator of charter schools and private contractors.
“Having come up through the system, McGinley saw the effects of the years of privatization on the District, and many of his votes reflected a movement toward real reform,” said Lisa Haver, a former teacher and co-founder of the advocacy group Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS). “Mayor Kenney must fill that seat with an experienced and principled public school educator.”
A statement from APPS noted his vote and statement on Teach for America, saying that he urged other board members to deny the contract due to the “alliances that the organization has with wealthy funders dedicated to undermining public education, undermining the rights of workers and driving for more and more privatization of public education.”
Wow. Dr. McGinley is an outspoken advocate for teachers (and teaching as a profession) on the Board. I hope whoever replaces him will have similar levels of experience. His perspective will be missed. https://t.co/bLpvFVnd1h— Maddie "mx u look so tired" Luebbert (@MaddieLuebbert) March 12, 2020
Last month, Kenney announced he wanted to reappoint McGinley, along with all but one of the current board members, to a new term. Board Vice President Wayne Walker previously announced he was departing for family reasons. Kenney appointed Ameen Akbar to replace Walker.
McGinley said he wanted to submit his resignation letter before City Council acts on the mayor’s Board of Education recommendations, which is a new step in the process this year. He said he informed the mayor at 2 p.m. Thursday of his decision to leave.
During this year’s board member selection process, an Education Nominating Panel selected 27 possible board nominees, so the mayor has a pool of people from which to choose McGinley’s replacement.
Kenney issued a statement last night: “I am grateful to Dr. McGinley for serving on the Board of Education through the completion of its first term. During the School District’s transition to local control, Dr. McGinley provided valuable leadership, experience, and expertise drawn from his years as an educator and leader of school systems. I commend him for his dedication to the well-being and success of our students, and wish him well.”