New SRC members talk safety, superintendent search

The Philadelphia School District should pay more attention to issues of violence and safety. It’s not looking for Superman to be its next CEO. And it has to repair broken relationships with the public, three incoming School Reform Commission members said today.

New SRC members Lorene Cary and Wendell Pritchett and Pedro Ramos, who has been nominated to the panel by Gov. Corbett but awaits state Senate confirmation, spoke on WHYY’s Radio Times this morning.

“We have to re-build, re-establish, re-earn public confidence,” said Ramos, a former school board president who will become SRC Chairman if confirmed.

The SRC must share data, be “a lot more active in engaging the public, and listening and acting,” Ramos said.  The panel knows it has a big job in front of it, he said.

“And I think a lot of it is also looking at the school district we have today, which is organized in my view for the school district we had 50 years ago,” said Ramos.

Acting Chairman Wendell Pritchett, the chancellor of Rugters-Camden, said that much has changed in education over the past decade, and district must find ways to scale up methods that work and fix those that don’t.

“We have to be open-minded about a lot of different approaches to education,” Pritchett said.

Cary, a novelist who said she attended the district’s high school fair this weekend, noted that “charter schools are part of our ecology now” and that “we actually have a great opportunity here to do something great with charters.”

Asked about an Inquirer article that detailed how a 6-year-old immigrant student was bullied and beaten, his family said, by fellow first-graders at Patterson Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia, the trio said the incident was “unacceptable.”

The boy's parents say he was beaten so badly they kept him out of school.  They had alerted school officials, who did not act until The Inquirer's story was published.  The 6-year-old now attends a charter school.

“It never should have happened,” Pritchett said.  “We have directed the school district leadership to investigate.  The acting superintendent has written personally to the family to try to engage with them to try to figure out what went wrong.”

Ramos called safety a “threshold” issue for parents and children.

“You can’t engage in reading and arithmetic if you don’t feel safe,” said Ramos.  “The SRC and the school district leadership really have to escalate the level at which we’re dealing with student safety and climate issues.”

He said that the district - rocked recently by the bitter battle over Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's exit, a mammoth budget gap and revelations over backroom deals over who would run a high school - is looking for a team-builder, not a hero, as the next superintendent.

"I don't think we're looking for Superman or Superwoman," Ramos said.  "I think we're looking for a super team of capable people."