Wendell Pritchett has resigned from the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, and Mayor Nutter has moved quickly to name a replacement - Marjorie Neff, who just retired as principal of Masterman, an elite district magnet school.
Pritchett, an academic who was until recently the chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden, was the longest-serving member of the SRC. Pritchett recently became interim dean of the University of Pennsylvania law school, and is a former Nutter deputy chief of staff.
Nutter, in a statement, hailed Pritchett.
"His leadership on the SRC has been unwavering and crucial, and his background as an educator and administrator has clearly been an asset to the Commission," the mayor said. "Throughut his tenure, Wendell’s commitment to ensuring a quality learning environment for every Philadelphia school child has impacted the work done by the SRC to improve education in our city."
His term was not up until 2017.
Pritchett, whose children attend city public schools, has been an SRC member since September 2011. For a time, he served as acting chair of the five-member body.
Pritchett's SRC tenure was marked by tremendous upheaval in the district, but he earned a reputation as smart, thoughtful and hardworking. He chaired the search committee that brought William R. Hite Jr., the current well-regarded superintendent, to Philadelphia.
But most of the SRC's attention during Pritchett's time was spent managing crises. The district is still embroiled in a cheating scandal. It has closed dozens of schools over the past several years, and is still coping with massive fiscal problems. Many city schools still lack adequate basic supplies, full-time counselors and nurses.
Neff understands the challenges at hand very well. She retired in June as principal of Masterman, having spent 38 years in the district as a teacher and principal.
“Marjorie Neff will bring her experience and knowledge as a School District administrator, teacher and parent to her service on the SRC,” Nutter said in a release. “As a proud public school parent myself, I know that Marjorie understands from a grassroots what it takes to educate our children. I thank her for accepting this call to service – as she has said, the financial challenges faced by the School District are enormous and the consequences of not meeting those challenges are almost too dire to contemplate – but I have the utmost faith in her abilities to advocate tirelessly on behalf of our students.”
Pritchett's resignation letter is pretty stunning. He wrote:
"Dear Mayor Nutter:
As we have discussed, the end of the academic year is an appropriate time for transition. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation from the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, effective July 3, 2014.
The last few years have been difficult ones for the School District of Philadelphia. The primary job of the members of the SRC has been to consider a set of options, all bad, and to attempt to figure out which one of these options would cause the least damage to students in the city of Philadelphia. Though I believe that the members of the SRC have performed this painful task well, this is not a way to run a high performing school system. And these challenges will not change until our citizens recognize the fundamental need for a quality education for EVERY child and demand that our governments at the local, state, and federal level all participate in the creation of a fully funded educational program.
Despite the significant challenges we face, the school district has made strides in recent years. We have more children in high performing schools, we continue to see an increase in graduation rates, we have greatly expanded opportunities for immersive education through career and technical education programs, and we have supported the development of several innovative new school models that are already providing high quality educational opportunities.
We also have found a top-notch Superintendent, Bill Hite, who has put together a high quality team. It has been an honor to work with Bill and his staff, and they have my continued support. I am certain that Bill and his team will bring positive growth to the school district, and I believe that, with the appropriate level of resources, Bill will make our school system a national model. But those resources need to be provided, and though you have been steadfast in your advocacy for our schools, thus far our legislative leaders and Governor have failed to provide that legally mandated support.
In spite of these difficult times, it has been an honor to serve with my co-commissioners through the past three years. Pedro Ramos, Feather Houstoun, Joe Dworetzky, Sylvia Simms, Lorene Cary, Bill Green, and Farah Jimenez are all true public servants in the best sense of the word. I thank them for their service. And I thank you and your Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr for all of your support for public education in the city of Philadelphia.
Finally, though it is easy to be pessimistic right now, I continue to be optimistic for the future of education in Philadelphia, because I have been privileged over the past few years to meet so many of the thousands of talented young people in this city. Their abilities are boundless, and I am certain that they will continue to achieve in spite of these challenges. That we adults are failing them right now greatly frustrates me, but I continue to have confidence in them and their potential. As a parent of two children in the public schools, and as a citizen of this great city, I will continue to work to ensure that we provide them with the support that they deserve.
Yours in continued service,
Wendell E. Pritchett"