At her first meeting as SRC's new chair, Wilkerson gets an earful about Philly schools

SRC chair Joyce Wilkerson performs one of her first official acts, congratulating Jada Harris, one of the district's "senior of the month" recipients.

At her first meeting as chair of the School Reform Commission on Tuesday night, Joyce Wilkerson got an earful.

Consider the testimony of Antoine Little Jr., a Philadelphia School District parent unsatisfied with the system's plan to revamp 11 schools. He was one of 48 members of the public who signed up to speak on topics ranging from reopening a closed South Philadelphia school to awarding a contract for janitorial services at 18 high schools.

"Ms. Wilkerson, we are glad you have joined the SRC, but we want our schools back," Little said. "We look forward to the day when you as the chair call for a vote to abolish the SRC. Enough is enough."

Wilkerson, whom Mayor Kenney recently selected for the SRC and Gov. Wolf made the chair, has a long history of public service, working as a top aide to then-Mayor John F. Street. She now works as an official at Temple University.

She responded politely but firmly to the audience.

"I appreciate your coming," she said to a frustrated Terrance Harshaw, a parent unhappy with his son's special-education services.

Wilkerson said she had spent the last 10 days in a crash course about the district with Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and his staff, which she called "eye-opening."

She said she was braced for challenges - the outcome of the national election might mean uncertainty for big-city districts' funding from the federal government - but also prepared to take advantage of closer relationships with the city and state, and to work with the people so ardently making their case to her Tuesday night.

"It's important for us to hear what you have to say," she told the audience. "It's a different perspective than we might get every day."

The SRC heard a proposal for school calendars that would have students start and finish the term earlier. By the 2018-19 school year, students would have their first day of classes before Labor Day, to maximize learning time before June, when attendance dips considerably.

The commission is to vote on the new calendars in December, after a 10-day comment period.

It also heard about plans to test the drinking water at every city school for lead. Initially, the district said it would take 18 months to test every water source; it now says all the tests will be complete by June.

So far, 676 water sources have been tested. Fifty-six had levels of lead higher than 15 parts per billion, the district's new, more stringent threshold for shutdown. The problematic sources were immediately shut down, officials said.

Francine Locke, the district's environmental director, said she thought the outcome to date was "a good one."

The SRC also voted to permanently close the struggling World Communications Charter School at the end of the school year. The school, one of the four original charters opened in Philadelphia in 1997, has chosen to forgo appeals.

The school, officials say, has low test scores, declining graduation rates, and other problems.

Not considered by the commission was the resolution to award a contract for cleaning services at 18 high schools. The $15.7 million deal was to go to Temco Building Maintenance. But after representatives from current vendor GCA Services spoke and Commissioner Sylvia Simms asked questions about the contract, the resolution failed to move.

At the end of the 31/2-hour meeting, a fairly tame one by district standards, Commissioner Bill Green, who is suing the governor to regain chairmanship of the SRC, offered Wilkerson warm words.

"I'd like to welcome you to the SRC," he said. "It's great to have you."

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