New SRC member: "My heart is with traditional public schools"

Former Lower Merion School District Superintendent Christopher McGinley has been named to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

Christopher McGinley's grandmother was a cleaning lady at Olney High School. On Wednesday, McGinley was named by Mayor Kenney to a seat on the School Reform Commission.

McGinley, 58, spent nearly two decades in Philadelphia classrooms, and now teaches educational leadership at Temple University. He is a former superintendent of the Cheltenham and Lower Merion School Districts.

Kenney said he chose McGinley because of his experience.

"His educator lens is exactly what the SRC needs in order to build on the district's gains in recent years," he said in a statement. "Dr. McGinley's passion for public education and reducing the achievement gap, coupled with his background as an administrator for various school districts, will also help the district prepare for a smooth transition to greater local control."

Five years ago, when McGinley moved back to the city after a stint in the suburbs, he "had a gut feeling" he would help the Philadelphia School District in some way, he said. He was not expecting a call to join the SRC but accepted the mayor's offer quickly, he said.

"I believe strongly in public education," said McGinley, who takes the seat vacated by the recent expiration of Sylvia Simms' term. "I am honored by the opportunity."

Education is the McGinley family business. In addition to his grandmother, McGinley's parents both taught in the city; his father, Daniel, was the longtime head of the principals' union. Six of the eight McGinley children went into teaching, including McGinley's sister Nancy, who was superintendent in Charleston, S.C., for years.

McGinley started his career as a special-education teacher at Frankford High School. He also worked as principal of Adaire Elementary and Austin Meehan Middle School and as a central administrator.

His daughter and a nephew are educators in the district.

McGinley will have to come up to speed quickly. An SRC meeting is scheduled for Thursday, but also imminent is a crucial meeting at which the commission will consider new charter-school applications.

Though he has worked in school districts, McGinley has some experience with charters: As superintendent, he helped vet applications in Lower Merion and Cheltenham. Neither district has any charter schools.

He also recently assisted the Chester Upland school system in evaluating charter applications.

He said he was not reflexively against or for charters, and would evaluate each application individually.

"My heart is with traditional public schools - that's where I went to school and that's where I worked for 35 years," McGinley said. "But I've also seen some wonderful work in charter schools."

Another hot-button issue he is likely to be confronted with is the possible dissolution of the SRC.

Kenney has said that he wants the district to revert back to local control, but that the time is not yet right. McGinley is on the same page, he said.

"Time needs to be spent in figuring out the best possible model to replace the SRC," he said. "I would certainly hope I can contribute to that conversation."

McGinley said he will focus on educational leadership as an SRC member. But he also has a special interest in the district's comprehensive high schools. (He attended Lincoln High.)

"I would like to know more about how well-supported the neighborhood high schools are, that we're providing enough resources to support them," he said.

McGinley was hailed by many as a good pick.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. called McGinley "a great addition" to the SRC, with "a lifetime commitment to a student-first focus."

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, in a statement, said he was "especially interested in learning how Dr. McGinley will apply his experiences working in wealthy school districts that are so often compared with Philadelphia public schools in discussions about inequities in public education."

Councilwoman Helen Gym, a district parent and longtime education activist, called him a "top-notch educator who understands that school transformation is not only necessary but also attainable - and that it requires the efforts and commitments of the entire community."

McGinley lives in Fairmount and has five children, three of whom graduated from district schools. The younger two attended suburban public schools.

McGinley becomes the fourth member of the five-member panel. The fifth seat is vacant.

Gov. Wolf has named Estelle Richman, a former city, state, and federal official, to fill that spot, but gubernatorial nominees need Senate confirmation. Richman's confirmation hearing has not been scheduled.

kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146@newskag

www.philly.com/schoolfiles

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