Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Bombshell: Nowak out at William Penn

Bombshell: Nowak out at William Penn

As president of the influential Philadelphia-based philanthropy the William Penn Foundation for the last year and a half, Jeremy Nowak had emerged as the driving force behind massive reform of Philadelphia's public schools. His organization spent millions on studies and related efforts to boost the role of charters and privatized education.

Suddenly, he's gone.

In a move that sent shockwaves through Philadelphia's education, philanthropic and media worlds, the William Penn Foundation announced mutual agreement to part ways with the controversial Nowak and that it is beginning to search for a new president.

The news release from the $1.9 billion Foundation states that "significant differences" had emerged between board run by longtime board chairman -- David Haas, of the family that built the Rohm & Haas chemical firm here in Philadelphia -- and Nowak, who came over in 2011 from The Reinvestment Fund.

You can read the entire release here.

The William Penn Foundation is a huge player locally on issues related from media reform to the environment, but no issue had emerged as more important than its huge, recent committment to overhauling Philadelphia's troubled school system.

In July, Daniel Denvir of the Philadelphia City Paper wrote a definitive look at Nowak's role in school reform. Here's an excerpt:

“I think he’s taking an activist approach to being president of the foundation, and he has an agenda,” says one observer of city schools who, like many interviewed for this story, spoke only on condition of anonymity. “It is a shadow school district that’s being bankrolled by people who don’t even live in the city.”

Conversations with sources, along with documents obtained by City Paper, portray an expanding network of pro-charter-school organizations close to, and in many cases funded by, William Penn, coordinating with the state-controlled School District to map out the future of Philly public education. It is now clear that Nowak, a major charter-school supporter and longtime force in Philadelphia, had taken the city’s most powerful foundation in an aggressively political direction. 

There's a lot of unanswered questions -- stay tuned.

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