Philadelphia’s new school board members get City Council approval

A collage of portraits of eight people. Four people on the top row and four people on the bottom row.
Clockwise from top left, Board members Sarah Ashley Andrews, Crystal Cubbage, Cheryl Harper, Whitney Jones, ChauWing Lam, Wanda Novales, Joan Stern, and Reginald Streater. (Courtesy images)

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In a chorus of “ayes”, Philadelphia’s City Council voted to approve eight members of the city’s Board of Education on Wednesday, leaving one seat open with the deadline rapidly approaching.

Councilmembers approved the nominations of current Board President Reginald Streater, Crystal Cubbage, Cheryl Harper, Whitney Jones, Wanda Novales, Joan Stern, Sarah-Ashley Andrews, and ChauWing Lam by voice vote on Thursday. All are expected to take their seats on the board starting May 1, as the city’s Home Rule Charter requires, and their first action meeting is scheduled for May 30.

Neither councilmembers nor Mayor Cherelle Parker’s administration gave any update on Joyce Wilkerson’s nomination on Wednesday, however. Wilkerson, the longest serving board member, saw her nomination deferred at a tense hearing last week during which councilmembers interrogated board members about the board’s decisions not to approve or nonrenew several Black-led charter schools as well as the absence of a long-promised school facilities plan.

Council President Kenyatta Johnson refused to give details about the delay in Wilkerson’s nomination Thursday.

“She doesn’t have enough support or votes to go forward,” Johnson said to reporters’ repeated requests for more information. “We will continue having conversations with the [Parker] administration, and we’ll go from there.”

Members of the public spoke out in support of Wilkerson on Thursday, but a hearing date for her nomination has yet to be set. Several current board members as well as labor and advocacy groups issued statements and letters of support for Wilkerson this week, citing her fiscal prudence and years of experience leading the board and its predecessor, the School Reform Commission.

“I know there is inevitable push and pull between charter schools and the board that is supposed to provide them oversight,” Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, an attorney for the Public Interest Law Center said. “To serve charter school students, we must have oversight for charter schools themselves.”

The uncertainty over Wilkerson’s nomination is indicative of a broader test of mayoral and council power since Parker has taken office. Following her nomination announcement, Parker has been largely absent from the public debate surrounding Wilkerson, leaving space for councilmembers, led by Education Committee Chair Isaiah Thomas, to drive the conversation.

Nominating school board members is the most direct impact Parker can typically have on public education in the city, along with naming her education executives. School board seats also have powerful political influence especially against the backdrop of looming city budget negotiations.

In a statement following the vote, Parker said Thursday “I continue to support my entire slate of nine nominees, including Joyce Wilkerson. I selected nominees who wholeheartedly share my vision for public education in our city.”


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

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