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Making the grade

Torresdale resident Maria McColgan will serve on the School District of Philadelphia’s new Board of Education.

Child advocate: Maria McColgan, pictured with her daughters, Julianna, 7, and Valentina, 11, is a member of Philadelphia’s new Board of Education. She will serve on the volunteer board in conjunction with her job as a child abuse pediatrician at CARES Institute and Cooper Hospital. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

Applying to Philadelphia’s new Board of Education was something Maria McColgan felt she had to do. A less-than-ideal teaching experience in the city, paired with her lifelong passion for child education, made it a necessity.

In their Torresdale home, her two daughters (Julianna, 7, and Valentina, 11) rushed in and out of rooms, excited to have reached the final week of classes for the school year. By the time classes resume in the fall, their mother will be a member of the nine-person board elected to oversee the school district.

McColgan will serve on the volunteer board in conjunction with her job as a child abuse pediatrician at CARES Institute and Cooper Hospital. As a member of the board, she has goals to remain transparent to parents, students and community members, while giving them a voice.

“As soon as I saw that the SRC was going to dissolve itself, the first thing I said to my husband (Joe) was I have to find a way to be on that school board,” she said.

McColgan’s passion for serving children extends back to her own childhood, when she worked at camps, playgrounds and rec centers.

“My whole life has been invested in advocating for children,” she said.

As a child abuse pediatrician, McColgan performs medical evaluations when other physicians have concerns for child abuse. Among her numerous responsibilities is educating other physicians and law enforcement. She often testifies in court about whether she thinks cases do or do not involve child abuse.

“We do need to make sure we have trauma-informed schools,” she said. “It’s not that we want all teachers to be counselors, but we want them to understand that sometimes when a child acts up, it’s not because they’re bad, but it’s what happened to them.”

She completed a residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, where she founded the child protection program and served as its medical director for almost 14 years.

McColgan said she plans to be an advocate for parents and students in any way that she could. One of the most important steps to that is earning their trust.

“[I want people to] realize we are Philadelphians just like everyone else,” she said. “I will be a voice for kids and do whatever it takes, if it means talking to legislators or journalists or trying to figure out public-private partnerships, I am willing to do whatever I can do to help in any way I can.”

She described her time as a school district teacher as giving her both wonderful and horrible experiences.

She taught at two different schools, one of which is now closed. Her old classroom had “dreary” wooden floors, ivory paint and a hole in the ceiling that constantly leaked in front of her blackboard.

This experience lead her to take a particular interest in the state of learning facilities.

“Think about your environment,” she said. “At work, if you’re in a bright room that allows you to have creative space and a cheery atmosphere, versus if you were in a dully and dreary room and windows that were falling apart, which one would you want to work in?”

McColgan and the other members of the board (which includes Christopher McGinley, a Mayfair native and SRC member) completed a listening tour throughout the city in preparation of beginning their service in July. The board visited Lawncrest Library in May, when one major concern expressed by parents was kindergarten and first-grade students being relocated from Mayfair Elementary to Austin Meehan Middle School.

“I heard everyone’s concerns loud and clear and have concerns of my own,” McColgan said, but said she is waiting for further information before taking a firm stance.

Within five years, McColgan would like to see the district’s Action Plan 3.0 in action — increase the graduation rate, increase reading proficiency, improve funding and fill all staff positions.

But, she said, none of this is possible without support from parents and the community.

“Every child deserves to have an excellent education and opportunities, and I think we can do that. It’s within reach,” she said. “But, we have to work together to do that. The board is nine people. We can’t do it alone. We need all hands on deck. We need everybody investing in children and their education. That’s the best hope for this city.” ••

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