Commentary: New Board of Ed shows marked change from secrecy, inaccessibility of SRC
As a policy analyst, advocate, and observer of Philadelphia public schools for more than 40 years, I was hopeful but not quite optimistic that the new Board of Education would jettison the secrecy, inaccessibility, and refusal to respond to public questions that were the hallmarks of its predecessor, the School Reform Commission. My greatest fear was that we would witness a change in name only, a distinction without a difference.
I am delighted to have been proven wrong. The meeting of the Academic Performance & Support Committee on Sept. 13 was a real eye-opener: questions to staff from board members showed that they were well-informed, respectful and responsive to residents who testified, and willing to meet at a time that made it easier for working people to participate.
Yes, we need longer meetings or shorter agendas to facilitate dialogue. Yes, some meetings need to be held around the city. Yes, the staff needs to be better prepared and focus on avoiding jargon and bromides. Yes, the recent vote on tax breaks for Fishtown developers was both shocking and wrong-headed, especially after the intensive questioning of city officials who could not justify their recommendation.
But much of the evidence is that this Board of Education is off to an impressive start. And it is our duty, as the citizenry they are charged to represent, that WE make good use of their transparency, accessibility, and responsiveness to ensure that their policies are smart and their oversight of the superintendent and his leadership team is both rigorous and constructive.
Philadelphia’s school performance in the last several years on national indicators has been flat compared with other cities. If we want to change that picture and accelerate improvement, we need everyone at 440 N. Broad St. to up their game and act with much greater boldness to replicate success. That is the greatest substantive challenge the new board must meet.