Chief education officer talks school board process in Parkwood

Otis Hackney joined the Parkwood Civic Association to discuss the upcoming local school board.

SOURCE: WIKIMEDIA

The Parkwood Civic Association last week hosted Otis Hackney, Philadelphia’s chief education officer, to discuss the School Reform Commission dissolving and the upcoming local school board.

Last November, the SRC voted to dissolve itself, leading the way for Mayor Jim Kenney to appoint a local school board in the following year.

Hackney, who was a former principal at South Philadelphia High School, detailed the history of public schools in Philadelphia and the importance of returning to local control. Hackney believes the school district was in financial distress when it relinquished power to the state, but thinks this is the appropriate time to bring the power back to Philadelphia.

He added it is imperative to not revert to the way the previous board operated over a decade ago, but it’s time to move forward.

“We want to make sure that we don’t maintain the status quo,” said Hackney. “We really want to do some things to move forward, and I think local control will allow us to do that.”

Last week, Kenney named a 13-member nominating panel that will be responsible for recommending 27 people for the school board. Out of the 27 presented to Kenney, he will select nine to be on the school board. One must be 18 years of age and a resident of Philadelphia for at least the previous year to be considered for this new position.

Hackney explained that it is important to the mayor that there is diversity when selecting the new board. He is hopeful that there will be ethnic diversity, geographic diversity, and economic diversity on the panel.

Those in attendance wanted to assure that the Northeast would be represented in the new panel, and Hackney reassured that it’s “Important to have people from different parts of the city.”

Anyone can nominate themselves or someone else for the panel on phila.gov, but Hackney asked that nominees be informed beforehand.

Those on the panel are working on a volunteer basis for approximately 20–30 hours a week, and will help make important decisions for the school district.

The nine members on the board will serve coterminous with the mayor, but are able to serve up to three terms. Those on the board can also be removed by the mayor.

Hackney stated this adds accountability that the mayor wants to be judged on.

“When they (people of Philadelphia) elect the next mayor, they understand that education is going to be a much more important issue,” said Hackney. “It already is, but it’s going to increase because that new mayor will be able to appoint that new board.”

The impact charter schools have had on Philadelphia is quite evident, and Hackney believes the new school board will actually help those schools as well.

“The mayor wants to make sure that charter schools are safe and feel comfortable and confident during this time,” Hackney said. “This is not a process to undo charter schools, or to eliminate charter schools.”

Approximately one-third of the children in Philadelphia attend charter schools.

Hackney also expressed optimism for the 12 current “community schools” in Philadelphia, with George Washington High School being one of them. The goal for the office is to get to 25 community schools in the city.

In other news, the Parkwood Civic Association voted to donate $100 to the Police Officer of the Year for the 8th District, which will be announced in March. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com