Parker’s picks for Philly school board back her vision for year-round school, longer days

A group of people wearing business clothes stand together to pose for a portrait inside of a large decorated room.
Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker introduced her nominees for the city school board on Tuesday, April 2. From left: Joan Stern, Whitney Jones, Wanda Novales, Crystal Cubbage, Cheryl Harper, Sarah-Ashley Andrews, Reginald Streater, ChauWing Lam, and Joyce Wilkerson at City Hall. (Dale Mezzacappa / Chalkbeat)

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Mayor Cherelle Parker introduced her nine nominees for the Philadelphia Board of Education Tuesday, saying they represent the diversity of talent, experience, backgrounds, and neighborhoods needed to bring Philadelphia’s school district into a “new era.”

Shaping the school board “is the most important decision I have to make,” she said.

“The unifying factor of the nine, they put children first, they all had that in common.”

Parker, whose picks must now be approved by the City Council, opted Monday to nominate four current members and name five new people.

Seven current members had sought reappointment, but she decided to replace Leticia Egea-Hinton, Lisa Salley, and Cecelia Thompson.

The new board, slated to take office May 1, will face major challenges in a district that has long struggled to provide a quality education to all its students, many of whom come from families in poverty and from neighborhoods plagued by violence. On Tuesday, Parker highlighted aging facilities and a teacher shortage as two such issues facing the board.

Any plan for improving schools needs to include “facilities modernization … more career and technical training, and quite frankly a diverse and a stable teacher workforce that gets the respect that it deserves,” Parker said.

Parker also spoke highly of Superintendent Tony Watlington, who was at her side during the event. She made it clear that she approved of his leadership and wants him to stay.

“I have been impressed with his innovative thinking, also the competitiveness when he describes the potential of the School District of Philadelphia to be the largest fast-improving school district in the nation,” she said. “You have to have that kind of belief in our young people and the people that keep our educational system going.”

Parker also reiterated her commitment to seeing through major education proposals she made during her 2023 campaign: a longer school day and year-round school. Her board choices echoed that priority as they were introduced, even though there has been scant discussion of how much that might cost and how to do it with a teacher shortage. Watlington has said that he plans to create a pilot program in 15 schools next year.

“I am particularly motivated by the concept of year-round schooling,” said Joan Stern, one of Parker’s nominees who would be a new member. Board veteran Joyce Wilkerson said she looked forward to “enriching supports for students before and after school and throughout the year.”

Parker noted that the state has a $14 billion surplus that could be used to provide more education aid to Philadelphia and other districts. She has also proposed increasing the city’s share of school funding by giving the district a higher percentage of property tax revenue.

She and her nominees also expressed optimism. Parker and Watlington pointed out that the dropout rate has been decreasing, and that Philadelphia has made greater strides than most districts in rebounding from pandemic learning loss.

Learn more about Parker’s Board of Education nominees and hear their comments from Tuesday’s press conference below, beginning with the five nominees who would be new to the board.

Crystal Cubbage

“I want to serve because too much intellect, creativity and raw talent in my hometown goes unrealized,” said Cubbage, the executive director of the Philadelphia Learning Collaborative.

Cubbage is an engineer who has worked at NASA and taught physics in public and private schools.

Cheryl Harper

Harper, a former teacher who worked for the district in human resources, said that she planned to see for herself what is happening in schools.

“I intend to go out into the community and sit down with principals and teachers … and talk about the things they are doing that are positive,” Harper said. “We’ve already lost part of a generation, and we need to be able to keep what we have.”

To do this, she said, it is important “to recruit the best and brightest teachers.”

Wanda Novales

Wanda Novales, who taught and led schools in the district, founded and was principal of the Pan American Charter School in Kensington, which uses the International Baccalaureate curriculum. She is now the executive pastor of City Reach Church and described her own experience as a child in an under-resourced Kensington school after moving to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico and not speaking English.

“I have found that no matter the type of school or neighborhood, a student’s progress and a parent’s hope is still the same,” she said.

Like Parker, Novales said that “I believe that we can work together to provide a standard of excellence for school buildings, even in poor neighborhoods like the one I went to school in.”

Joan Stern

Joan Stern is a finance attorney who worked for the city, state, and school district over a 50-year career. Stern was instrumental in the founding of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, or PICA. Parker called her “the mother of Philadelphia’s fiscal stability.”

Stern said she was “particularly motivated by the concept of year-round schooling and making capital improvements that give children the best places to study at any time of the year.

She also said that “public education is a public good,” and that all taxpayers are responsible to pay for it, “whether they have children in the system or not.”

Whitney Jones

Whitney Jones said he started his career on Wall Street, but realized that wasn’t for him, and pivoted to working with non-profit organizations to shore up their finances. He has worked for charter school networks and is now chief financial officer at the Children Crisis Treatment Center.

“I decided to use my background to build generational community wealth,” he said, and pass on the “blessings” he gained from his own upbringing by parents who prioritized education.

Current Philadelphia board members also excited to continue

The four current members of the board nominated by Parker also spoke about why they wanted to continue serving.

ChauWing Lam described her own background as an immigrant and how she sometimes had to miss school to help her parents run their restaurant. “School was where I was given opportunities,” she said.

Sarah-Ashey Andrews, the board’s youngest member and a public school graduate, said she was concerned about equity. “I was the little girl from North Philly who didn’t necessarily have the opportunity of quality schools in my neighborhood,” she said.

Wilkerson led the board from 2018 to to 2023, and prior to that chaired the School Reform Commission, which ran the district when it was under state control. She said she applied to stay on because “continuity” is key, and that “how we govern the district in coming years will play a huge role in children’s outcomes for decades to come.”

And Reginald Streater, the current board president, said to Parker that he is “looking forward to promoting your vision,” including year-round school, teacher retention and recruitment, repairing school buildings, “and educating the whole child.”

An attorney, Streater is a graduate of Germantown High School whose family experienced housing insecurity when he was growing up.

“I am a living testament to the transformative power of education in Philadelphia,” he said.

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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