Mayor hopes to have list of candidates for Philadelphia board vacancies in December

Nominating panel appointed by Kenney to convene in two weeks  

Mayor Jim Kenney standing at a podium.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In two weeks, Mayor Jim Kenney plans to begin the process to fill two vacancies on the school board. The nominating panel, which consists of mayoral appointees, will consider candidates starting Nov. 9, and names could be submitted to the city council as soon as December.

The nine-member board, which is appointed by the mayor, has lost two members since March. Ameen Akbar, who was appointed to the board in May, stepped down earlier this month to take care of his ailing father. Christopher McGinley, who was appointed to the board in 2018, resigned in March for personal reasons.

For a while, it was unclear if the mayor was going to fill McGinley’s seat, which has been vacant for almost eight months now. But it’s a critical time for the Philadelphia School District, as a recent racial reckoning that began with the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and has intensified after Monday’s fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr.

In a school district that is 73% Black and Latino, the current school board has no Black men. There are three Black women — board president Joyce Wilkerson, and members Angela McIver and Julie Danzy — two white women (Mallory Fix Lopez and Maria McColgan), one Latino woman Leticia Egea-Hinton, and one Asian man in (Lee Huang).

Akbar is Black and McGinley is white.

Kenney’s office said in a statement that he would consider appointing a Black man: “all forms of diversity are extremely important to the mayor when it comes to balancing the make-up of the Board of Education.”

“It’s critical that the board represents Philadelphians,” the statement said. “This includes our Black community, and Black males in particular, whose voice and perspective is critical to quality public education. He’s certainly open to filling both seats with Black men, and encourages all qualified candidates to apply when the application is released.”

The mayor is looking for candidates who are “ready to hit the ground running,” his office said.

“Have a sincere understanding of the demands of the position and appreciate that there could be difficult decisions on the horizon in the coming years,” according to the statement. “Have a firm grasp of the needs of our community and our youth.”

Akbar, who was appointed in May, was one of 27 board candidates whose names were sent to the mayor by the educational nominating panel. Council members then voted on the mayor’s appointments. McGinley was appointed in 2017. McGinley left Philadelphia in 1999, where he served as an elementary and middle school principal, to be the assistant superintendent in the Cheltenham Township district, where he was promoted to superintendent in 2003. 

“While Mr. Akbar has been a board member for a relatively short time, we have truly valued his voice as a native Philadelphian, public school graduate, and career educator and student advocate,” said board president Joyce S. Wilkerson earlier this month.

After the School Reform Commission was dissolved three years ago and the city took over control of the district, Kenney appointed a school board with six women and three men that included social workers, a pediatrician, several educators, one expert in finance, and another in governance.

Some critics complained throughout the process that the public should have had input into the selection. The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools also said the public should have had the ability to get to know the candidates before they were appointed.

The mayor at the time made his selections from 45 names by the education nominating committee, another body he appoints.

At the time the SRC dissolved, Superintendent William Hite declared the action “a historic vote,” promising to “continue to advocate for the necessary resources to increase our successes, maintain our stability, and advance the positive momentum we have been able to achieve.”

There’s a requirement by the City Charter for the nominating panel to send the mayor three names for each board opening.He has 10 days to request additional candidates from the panel.

During the first board member selection in 2018, Kenney did for more names, but at that time, he was appointing a whole new board.

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