Panel submits 27 names to mayor for new school board

The group includes two current School Reform Commission members.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Education Nominating Panel voted Feb. 26 to submit its selection of 27 names to Mayor Kenney for appointment to the new Board of Education, a group that includes nonprofit leaders and medical professionals, educators and activists, social workers and attorneys, among others.

Two current members of the School Reform Commission, Christopher McGinley, and Chair Joyce Wilkerson, are among those nominated. Kenney will choose nine people to be the members of the District’s first locally controlled governing body since 2001. That was when the state took over the struggling District, which was facing academic and fiscal distress.

Other nominees are top officials at the Lantern Theater Company (Stacy Dutton), the Please Touch Museum (Patricia Wellenbach), the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (Dario Bellot), and the Reading Terminal Market (Anuj Gupta).

Roberta Trombetta, the head of CB Community, a private school for foster children that began as a charter school, is also included, as well as Susanna Greenberg, former president of the board at Independence Charter School. Greenberg, Trombetta, and Gupta are among the eight people nominated who have law degrees.

A former chief financial officer for both the School District and City Council, Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis, and a former chief of staff to the SRC, Loree Jones, are also on the list.

One member of the People’s Slate put forward by the Our Cities Our Schools coalition was nominated – Tonya Bah, a District graduate, parent, and vocal advocate. The coalition was one of the prime movers behind the campaign to return the District to local control.

The full list of nominees and short biographical sketches of each are below.

The panel reviewed all of the more than 500 resumes it received, choosing 80 to interview in a series of three phone meetings, explained the panel’s chair, Wendell Pritchett, at the start of the meeting. He said the panel considered four areas in making its choices: organizational acumen; a commitment to public education; diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, and ethics and integrity.

Teams of two or three panel members interviewed the 80 candidates individually over seven days. The panel met on Feb. 19 to come up with its choices, and each was voted on individually at Monday’s meeting.

Many of the 20 or so people who attended the meeting criticized the panel for not holding its deliberations in public. Eleven were registered to speak.

The panel operated mostly behind the scenes, voting on the nominees at only their second public meeting; the first one was to organize and elect officers. The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools accused it of violating the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.

“The people of Philadelphia, including the stakeholders of the District, have been shut out of this entire process,” said Lisa Haver, a founder of the alliance.

She and other alliance members said they would continue to advocate for an elected school board, as exists in every other school district in Pennsylvania.

After voting on the names to submit to the mayor and hearing the criticisms, many of the panel members praised the committee’s deliberations, comparing it favorably to other such undertakings in which they had participated.

“I was never involved in anything more straightforward than this process,” said Patrick Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO. "We came together for what we thought was best for the children of Philadelphia."

Kendra Brooks, who originally had been part of the People’s Slate but took herself out of consideration to be on the nominating panel, said she was proud of its work. “But as an activist, I feel I still have more work to do. We did the best we could with what we had.”

Pritchett said after the meeting that he disagreed with the accusations of secrecy, defended the process, and said the 27 finalists included “terrific” people.

“I think it was a very good process by 13 committed people who care about the city,” he said.

Saying that he was “deeply confident” in the group of nominees, Pritchett indicated that he would have liked to see even more diversity in the pool, despite the hundreds of applications and people who were nominated by others.

“Diversity was underlying all the decisions we made,” Pritchett said. He felt that certain neighborhoods in particular were underrepresented, specifically citing North and Northeast Philadelphia.

Mayor Kenney came to the beginning of the meeting to thank the panel.

“I look forward to seeing the names,” he said.

Pritchett said that although the Mayor’s Office of Education had helped staff the panel, names had not been shared with Kenney beforehand.

Under the process laid out by the City Charter, Kenney has 20 days to make his choices, until March 18. He has 10 days, until March 8, to ask for more names if he is not satisfied with the list. If he requests more names, the panel will have 10 additional days to submit them and the mayor 20 additional days to make his choices.

Kenney’s chief of staff, Jane Slusser, said that the office will “now look at the information given to us” and interview candidates. She noted that some of the people on the list are “not familiar to us.”

There will be further vetting by the inspector general for potential conflicts of interest, she said. “We hope to have the whole process wrapped up by March 23,” she said, with orientation for the members starting in the last week of March.

If Kenney wants to name McGinley and Wilkerson, they will have to resign from the SRC, but it is still unclear when. If they resign soon, that will leave the five-member board with barely a quorum of three to make decisions between now and July 1, when the new board will take over. That must still be worked out by SRC and city attorneys, Slusser said.

The nominating panel has a term of two years, and it will reconvene if vacancies crop up.

In the wake of the choices, Our City Our Schools released a statement: “We put together the People’s School Board slate to emphasize the true stakeholders of the Philadelphia schools who often go unseen – parents, educators and students who have led the fight for quality schools. We are pleased to see some people on this list of 27 who share our values, including Tonya Bah,” who was a member of the slate.

The statement said the important questions were how the new board will be “responsive to parents, students, and educators,” that board members have “no conflicts with those seeking to profit off our schools,” and that they will push state officials for “fair funding.” The coalition also wants the new board to “demand less guns in our schools,” contradicting the movement to arm teachers and other personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

At the meeting, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools member Barbara Dowdall also said new board members should be ready to fight for “fair school funding,” as well as “believe in the value of public schools” based on personal experience as students, parents, and teachers, and understand how poverty affects learning.

They should also prioritize relationships with students, parents and staff, “not corporate profit seekers or donors,” she said. The SRC had been criticized by advocates for pushing an agenda of school privatization in the city, closing 23 schools in one year, among other actions, while expanding charter schools.

Biographical sketches released through the Mayor’s Office of Education of each person nominated are below.

Sarah-Ashley Andrews

Sarah-Ashley Andrews is a product of Philadelphia public schools. She attended W.B. Saul High School before attending undergraduate classes at Bloomsburg University and eventually earning a bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies with a minor in human services from Lancaster Bible College. Since returning to Philadelphia, she has been a staunch advocate for living mentally well, managing anger, and educating youth and adults on suicide through in-school programming and partnerships.

Jenné Ayers

Jenné Ayers currently serves as an associate at Ballard Spahr LLP. She earned her bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University in government, with health policy as a secondary field. She also has a law degree from Yale Law School. She is a board member for the League of Women Voters, Philly Set Go, the Philadelphia Chapter NAACP Youth Council and is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Ayers has worked on political campaigns for Joe Khan, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. She was born and raised in North Philadelphia and graduated from Julia R. Masterman in 2006.

Tonya Bah

Tonya Bah was born in Philadelphia and attended Simon Gratz High School and, later, Temple University. She has worked in the U.S. Senate, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the Department of Homeland Security, and the Philadelphia hospitality industry. She is also affiliated with several Philadelphia organizations, such as the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, Win the City, and Opt Out Philly (through the Caucus of Working Educators).

Dario Bellot

Fluent in both English and Spanish, Dario Bellot earned his bachelor of arts degree in international business and his master’s in business administration in Argentina before also taking business classes at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Bellot has served as finance director of a multi-billion-dollar company and senior vice president of administration for Congreso de Latinos Unidos and is currently the chief financial officer and chief operating officer at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. He has also served various nonprofit organizations, including several public charter schools and the Seybert Foundation, and served on the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities.

Suzanne Biemiller

Suzanne Biemiller attended Williams College and later received her master’s degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Since 2012, she has served as a trustee of Community College of Philadelphia. She has also served as chair of the PICA Board, the fiscal oversight board of the City of Philadelphia. In her professional life, she has worked as a senior program officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts, first deputy chief of staff for the City of Philadelphia, and chief of staff at the American Board of Internal Medicine, where she designed conflict of interest policies.

Laura Boyce

As an alumnus of Teach for America, Laura Boyce has attended Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and the Relay Graduate School of Education. She has taught at West Philadelphia High School and Simon Gratz Mastery Charter High School, served as principal of the Cooper B. Hatch Family School and Uncommon Schools Camden Prep in Camden, and most recently led teacher development in Philadelphia through a William Penn Foundation grant. Boyce and her husband look forward to sending their future children to their neighborhood District-run school.

Rotonya Carr

Carr is the parent of a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old at Penn Alexander School. She is vice president of the Home & School Association and an ad hoc member of the School Advisory Council. She is involved with clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania, where she cares for patients with complex liver diseases and manages a multi-million-dollar research project that funds her liver research. She started her studies in the public school system of Charleston, South Carolina, and earned degrees at both Harvard and Cornell Universities.

Julia Danzy

Julia Danzy has deep knowledge and a strong commitment to the welfare of Philadelphia’s children. She 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 and Philadelphia City Council and has served as deputy commissioner for children’s services in the Philadelphia Health Department.

Susan DeJarnatt

As a Philadelphia resident since 1974 and a Philadelphia public school parent, Susan DeJarnatt is deeply committed to providing every child with equitable access to a high-quality education. As a law professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, she has written extensively on school reform and its impact on Philadelphia. She has also served as a faculty adviser to the Student Discipline Advocacy Service and, formerly, to Temple’s Youth Courts practicum. As a board member of the Education Law Center, DeJarnatt has written extensively about the need for integrity, disclosure, and elimination of conflicts of interest within nonprofits.

Stacy Dutton

Stacy Dutton came to Philadelphia to pursue and complete a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Pennsylvania and has since been deeply rooted in the city. She has served as a peer review panelist for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, worked with the Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, and more recently served as a board member and current executive director of the Lantern Theater Company. She has also served as president and chief investment officer at the Park Agency Inc. and managing partner at Brandywine Global Investment Management.

Leticia Egea-Hinton

As a bilingual speaker of both English and Spanish, Leticia Egea-Hinton has attended Chestnut Hill College and 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 served as the assistant managing director for the Office of Supportive Housing. She has served as 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.

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 Community College of Philadelphia.

Susanna Greenberg

The mother of a preschooler, Greenberg attended J.S. Jenks Elementary and Central High School. While practicing law in Philadelphia, she joined the board of trustees at Independence Charter School and served as board president for two years, until last summer. She received a bachelor’s degree in ethics, politics, and economics from Yale University and a law degree from New York University. She has taught in public schools both as an all-subjects and English language learner teacher. She has also served on the board of Young Involved Philadelphia and currently lectures at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Anuj Gupta

Anuj Gupta has extensive public, private, and nonprofit experience. He attended Carnegie Mellon University and received both a master’s degree in government management and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He served Philadelphia during Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration as the deputy director for performance management, deputy recovery officer, and chief of staff/deputy commissioner for the Department of Licenses & Inspections. More recently, he has served as executive director of Mt. Airy USA and currently is general manager of the Reading Terminal Market.

Lee Huang

Lee Huang has lived in Philadelphia for more than 26 years. He earned a bachelor of science degree in economics at the Wharton School and a master’s degree in public administration from the Fels Institute of Government, both at the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked at the Enterprise Center and currently serves as the 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 Penn Alexander School and one of whom will attend Penn Alexander. Huang is also a current member of the Philadelphia Water Rate Board.

Renee Hughes

Renee Hughes attended the University of Virginia and received her law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center. She served as a trial judge in the Court of Common Pleas for 16 years and has recently taught at Villanova, Temple, and Drexel Universities. Most recently, she served as the chief executive officer at the American Red Cross, Eastern Pennsylvania. Additionally, she has served on the boards of Independence Health Group, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the Public Health Management Corp.

Loree Jones

Loree Jones studied at Spelman College and Princeton University. She has served as executive director of the African Studies Association and the co-executive director for City Year Greater Philadelphia. For the City of Philadelphia, she has served as first deputy managing director and chief of staff, and managing director. She has also served as the chief of staff and executive director of the School Reform Commission and chief of external affairs for the School District of Philadelphia. She is currently the chief of staff at Rutgers University–Camden and has served on the board of AchieveAbility, the Manayunk Development Corp., Health Partners Plans, Committee of Seventy, Operation Understanding, and Project H.O.M.E.

Chad Lassiter

Chad Lassiter received a bachelor’s degree in social work in Charlotte, North Carolina, before receiving his master’s in the same discipline at the University of Pennsylvania. His career began as a school-based therapist at Palumbo School in Philadelphia. He went on to be a social worker at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In the same organization, he served as a behavioral interventionist and researcher. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and West Chester University and currently is the executive director of Red Cross House and Recovery for the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. He has also served on various mayoral committees and has been a member of the board of Community College of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Prison System, and has served on the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males.

Maria McColgan

A mother of two children, Maria McColgan has taught at three different Philadelphia public schools. She received a bachelor of arts degree and a master’s degree in education, as well as a medical degree from the Temple University School of Medicine. She has 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). She currently works in the pediatrics department at Cooper University Hospital.

Chris McGinley

Chris McGinley earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple University in elementary education and a master’s degree in special education from Antioch University. He earned his doctorate in organizational leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. He currently serves as coordinator for the Educational Leadership Program at Temple University, where he is an associate professor. Formerly, he has been a Philadelphia public school teacher, principal, and District level administrator. He has also served as the superintendent of schools for the Lower Merion School District, executive director of the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, and superintendent for the District of Cheltenham Township. He has served on the boards of Public Citizens for Children & Youth, Research for Action, and the National Adoption Center. McGinley currently serves as a mayoral appointee to the School Reform Commission

Angela McIver

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 currently serves 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 afterschool programming.

Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis

Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis earned an economics degree from the City University of New York, a law degree from Temple University, and a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania. She has called Philadelphia home for more than 25 years and is a current trustee of the Free Library and former member of the Philadelphia Water Rate Board. She has also served on the boards of the Philadelphia Ballet and Urban Affairs Coalition. She was the chief financial officer of both the School District of Philadelphia and the Office of the City Council President. She has also served as the city treasurer, deputy commerce director, and the chief administrative officer at the Philadelphia International Airport. She currently serves as the regional director of government and airport affairs at American Airlines.

Sharon Parker

Sharon Parker earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education at Temple University, a master’s equivalency from Penn State University, and a doctorate in school leadership from Widener University. She was a student teacher at Frankford High School in Philadelphia and then taught and was a principal in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District. She was the superintendent for the Wallingford-Swarthmore district and the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. She has also volunteered as an English as a second language tutor and as a Home & School Association volunteer at Masterman School. She has served on the board of the Chester County Art Association, the United Way of Southern Chester County, and the Learning Link of Delaware.

Akil Parker

Akil Parker earned a bachelor of science degree in finance from Morgan State University, completed graduate coursework at Point Park University, and earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Lincoln University. He has served as a learning coach, academic adviser, and history and math teacher. He has two children who have attended public and private schools in Philadelphia. He is involved with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations.

Roberta Trombetta

Roberta Trombetta received her bachelor of science degree in business administration from Drexel University before earning her law degree from Temple University. In her professional career, she has served as the managing director of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and chief of operations for the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, Family Court Division. She has also served as the chief executive officer of Carson Valley Children’s Aid and is currently the founder of C.B. Community Schools. Trombetta and her three sisters were all educated by the Philadelphia School District and attended Lamberton School.

Patricia Wellenbach

Patricia Wellenbach is currently the president and CEO of the Please Touch Museum. She serves on the board of Thomas Jefferson University and the Pennsylvania Women’s Forum. Previously, she has served on the boards of the Reinvestment Fund, Avenue of the Arts Inc., Fringe Arts, La Salle University, the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She earned her bachelor of science degree in nursing from Boston College and completed the health-care executive certificate program at the UCLA Anderson School of Business.

Joyce Wilkerson

A Cleveland native, Joyce Wilkerson started off in Philadelphia as an attorney with Community Legal Services. Wilkerson served as chief of staff to Mayor John Street. She helped to stabilize the Philadelphia Gas Works and chaired the board of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. She then went on to be the executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. She is currently a member of the board at the Merchant Fund, Scribe Video Center, Brandywine Workshop, and Committee of Seventy. Wilkerson earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She currently serves as a mayoral appointee to the School Reform Commission.