Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker picks 5 new members for school board

A group of people sit in a row at a long table with portraits on the wall and a flag in the background.
For her nominees to the Philadelphia Board of Education, Mayor Cherelle Parker chose nine members from the list of 27 names submitted to her by the Educational Nominating Panel, pictured above. Her picks include the current board president and two people with strong ties to charter schools. If the City Council confirms her nominees, they’ll start their terms May 1. (Carly Sitrin / Chalkbeat)

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Mayor Cherelle Parker is pushing to remake the Philadelphia Board of Education by appointing five new people to the nine-member body, including two with strong past ties to charter schools and organizations.

But Parker, who released her nine appointees on Monday, also wants to keep the board’s president, Reginald Streater, along with three other current members.

The new names Parker chose are:

  • Crystal Cubbage, a former teacher and executive director for the Philadelphia Learning Collaborative.
  • Cheryl Harper, a former Philadelphia district employee and distinguished educator for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
  • Whitney Jones, the chief financial officer at Children’s Crisis Treatment Center who has also worked for the nationwide KIPP charter network and for a charter school consulting firm.
  • Wanda Novales, founding CEO and principal of Pan American Charter School.
  • Joan Stern, a public finance attorney and former special counsel for the district.

In addition to Streater, the current members chosen by Parker to stay on the board are Sarah-Ashley Andrews, Joyce Wilkerson, and ChauWing Lam.

Parker’s picks will now be submitted to the City Council, which will hold public hearings and vote on each nominee. If the council confirms her picks, as is generally expected, then the new board will take office May 1 to start four-year terms.

The Philadelphia school board has the power to drive education decisions in the city including voting on and monitoring the district’s $4.5 billion budget, hiring the superintendent, and influencing curriculum decisions including the purchase of new materials. It also has the power to authorize new charter schools, close underperforming ones, and expand charter seats.

Education advocates have been watching Parker’s decisions closely to see whether her administration would preside over a new era for charter school expansion. Since regaining local control from the state in 2018, the school board has not approved a new charter school but has allowed current charters to grow by more than 2,000 seats.

“I said I wanted a school board with a diversity of skills, from different neighborhoods, sectors and communities, some with deep knowledge, some with new ideas, a group that truly reflects my vision of One Philly, a United City,” Parker said in a statement Monday. “I’m confident we’ve assembled that board.”

Current members Leticia Egea-Hinton, Cecelia Thompson, and Lisa Salley sought to stay on the board and were among the 27 names submitted to Parker by the Educational Nominating Panel. But Parker didn’t reappoint them. Board Vice President Mallory Fix-Lopez and member Julia Danzy previously took themselves out of the running.

During her campaign last year, Parker indicated she may be open to growing the charter sector, which are publicly funded but privately run schools and enroll upwards of 70,000 students in the city. Thompson and Salley, who were not selected by Parker to continue on the board, voted several times in favor of renewing or approving new charter schools that other members opposed.

“I want quality seats and I don’t care where they are,” Parker said in an interview with Chalkbeat before the election, adding that she “will not allow anyone to act as if district-run and charter schools are warring factions.”

Alongside Superintendent Tony Watlington, the new board will also be tasked with determining what Parker’s promise for “year-round school” means in practice.

Watlington has said that he plans to start piloting year-round schooling this summer at 15 schools. At last week’s school board meeting, Watlington said plans for that pilot are still “under development” and he is “not yet ready to roll anything out.”

Parker said she would be appearing alongside her nominees in a press conference Tuesday. If confirmed, the new board picked by Parker will have seven women and two men.

Carly Sitrin is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Contact Carly at csitrin@chalkbeat.org.

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org.

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