Feather O'Connor Houstoun, a Philadelphian with extensive experience running large public organizations, was nominated Thursday by Gov. Corbett to the School Reform Commission.

If confirmed by the state Senate, Houstoun - who has led the William Penn Foundation, and has been Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare secretary and New Jersey state treasurer - would complete the five-member governing body of the Philadelphia School District.

Houstoun was widely hailed as a smart choice for a panel whose effectiveness and purpose have been questioned over the recent revelations of financial mismanagement and backroom political deals.

After months of turmoil, there's a powerful public appetite for an SRC without strong political ties, an appetite the most recent nominees could satisfy.

Houstoun is "a great combination of understanding politics but not being subservient to it," said Committee of Seventy president Zack Stalberg. Lorene Cary, appointed last week by Mayor Nutter, is a novelist who has not held political jobs.

Pedro Ramos, a former city solicitor and school board president, has a more politically oriented resumé. He also has been nominated by Corbett to fill a vacancy and also awaits confirmation. It appears that a single hearing will be held for Ramos and Houstoun. Cary does not require confirmation.

Houstoun would fill the remainder of Denise McGregor Armbrister's term, which expires in three months. Gov. Corbett would then have to make a decision whether to keep her on the panel. Armbrister resigned Wednesday.

The other members are Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett, named last month by Nutter, and Joseph Dworetzky, a Rendell appointee, a lawyer, and another former city solicitor who has been a member since 2009.

"This set of players means that we can look for a well-intentioned and probably more straightforward SRC," Stalberg said. "But given the oddball nature of this structure, I'm not sure that new people alone will completely change the habits or the culture."

Because of its structure, removing politics from the board may be a reach. The five members of the SRC, three gubernatorial picks and two mayoral selections, are nominated by politicians and have some responsibility to them.

Both Nutter and state Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis have said they planned to have much more to say about the operation of the district.

The SRC and the district have been tarnished in recent months by a crippling budget gap of more than $629 million, a nasty public fight over district leadership, and a city ethics report that spelled out backroom deals over who would run a city high school.

Former Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, bought out of her contract in August for nearly $1 million, has said she has given up on public education after her experience in Philadelphia.

On Thursday, hopes were high for Houstoun. She was called "one of Philadelphia's most dedicated and accomplished public servants" by Nutter.

In a release announcing Houstoun's nomination, Corbett said, "Feather Houstoun's experience and depth of knowledge in public service will be a tremendous asset to help lead Philadelphia's educational community."

Stalberg's assessment was similar.

"It would be hard to imagine a better appointment," he said. "She's got very high standards, she has a very sharp mind, and she makes decisions based on real data. She knows how government works, and she has a standard for how government should work."

Houstoun, 65, retired this year from the William Penn Foundation, one of the region's largest charitable organizations. She served as Pennsylvania's secretary of welfare under Gov. Tom Ridge and New Jersey's treasurer under Gov. Thomas H. Kean.

She has lived in Philadelphia since 1990, when she came to the city as SEPTA's chief financial officer. Houstoun lives near Washington Square and is married with two adult daughters.

As an SRC member, Houstoun said, she intended to stay focused on "educational attainment" and on "building good communication and trust in the community and with families, after all of the turmoil of the past."

"My experience has been that when decision-making is as transparent as it can be, and when people are given a genuine opportunity to understand the process and have input in it," Houstoun said, "everyone may not be happy with the result, but they understand it and can see value in the process."

No timetable for her confirmation was immediately set.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com, or @newskag on Twitter. Read
her blog, "Philly School Files,"