Shakeup at SRC: Former city bus aide appointed

Sylvia Simms, with her granddaughter, founded Parent Power to get parents more involved with kids' education. (Jimmy Viola / Staff Photographer)

A shakeup is coming to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the Inquirer has learned. 

Commissioner Lorene Cary, who had taken a leave of absence for medical reasons, will not be reappointed.  Her term is up at the end of the month" .  In her place, Mayor Nutter will appoint Sylvia P. Simms, a parent advocate.

Wendell Pritchett, whose term is also up this month, will be reappointed to the SRC.

Both Simms and Pritchett will serve four-year terms. Mark McDonald, a spokesman for the mayor, confirmed the appointments.

Until recently, Simms, 52, was a bus aide working with special needs children for the district.  She is a North Philadelphia resident, graduate of Simon Gratz High School, and the mother of two children who graduated from Dobbins and University City High Schools.  Her granddaughter currently attends T.M. Peirce Elementary, a North Philadelphia school slated for closure.

Simms is the founder of Parent Power, a parent empowerment organization. 

She said she was surprised to be asked by the mayor to serve on the SRC, but honored.

"My focus is parents, families, and community engagement, and actually listening to the people," Simms said. 

Simms, who will be sworn in by the next SRC meeting, on Feb. 21, said she knows she represents a new direction for the SRC, which has traditionally been made up of lawyers and other prominent Philadelphians.

"I'll be a voice at the table that's currently not at the table," she said. 

She wades into an SRC that's facing enormous fiscal challenges, and will help determine the future course of the district.  The SRC will vote on 37 school closings on March 7.

Simms said she has not yet fully evaluated the district's closing plans.

"But I will," she said.  "I want to see how they determined the schools they're closing, to make sure it's a fair process."

One thing is sure, Simms said: she wants to make sure all Philadelphians are heard by the powers that be.

"They have to find a better way to talk to the people, and have those crucial conversations that people want to have," she said.

McDonald, the mayor's spokesman, said that Cary was not being reappointed for medical reasons, but said the mayor had the highest praise for her tenure on the SRC.  Her focus on safety will be continued, McDonald said.

"Enough nice things cannot be said," about Cary, said McDonald.

As for Simms, "the mayor is very pleased," he said.  "I think the mayor believes he's secured a very excellent person who will do what's best for all children."

In a statement, Nutter said that "Sylvia will bring an incredibly important and unique perspective to educational advocacy to the  School Reform Commission.”