Kenney taps parent advocate, lawyer, nuclear engineer to fill Philly school board

Lisa Salley, Cecelia Thompson, and Reginald Streater.

Left to right: Lisa Salley, Cecelia Thompson, and Reginald Streater. (City of Philadelphia)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is nominating a lawyer, an engineer turned corporate executive, and a longtime activist for students with special needs to fill the open seats on the city’s board of education.

If approved by City Council, Lisa Salley, Reginald Streater, and Cecelia Thompson would join the nine-member body that oversees a $3.5 billion budget and the education of roughly 200,000 children in district and charter schools.

“I am proud to appoint these new members to the school board and believe they each will bring a valuable set of skills and diverse experiences to the table,” Kenney said in a statement. “I was inspired by their passion for public education and their eagerness to take on this critical work.”

Each nominee is Black and has an intimate connection to Philadelphia’s school district. But their biographies are starkly different.

Lisa Salley is a corporate executive who has worked with the American Petroleum Institute and General Electric, as well as founded her own consulting firm. The Philadelphia High School for Girls graduate began her career as a nuclear engineer.

In a statement, Salley said she would bring the focus on data she developed in the corporate world to the school board: “There is a digital divide that makes access to education difficult for many,” she said. “Collecting and analyzing dynamic data are necessary for effective decision-making.”Reginald Streater is an attorney with Archer and Greiner, an employment law firm with offices in the tri-state area. Streater also serves as vice president of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union’s executive board, where he has led an effort to make the organization more accessible to the city’s Black community. He is a graduate of Germantown High School and the parent of two children in city public schools.

Kenney’s third nominee, Cecelia Thompson, has long been a critical voice at school board meetings as an advocate for children with special needs.

“I strive to be a voice for the voiceless,” Thompson, the mother of a recent district graduate, said in a statement. “The partnership of families, schools, and our communities is essential in the holistic education of our precious children.”

School Board President Joyce Wilkerson said she did not know Salley or Streater personally, but looked forward to building a relationship with them. She praised the selection of Thompson though, calling her a longtime education advocate “known for her deep commitment to the students of Philadelphia, their parents, and particularly for Philadelphia’s special education community.”

Progressive City Councilmember Helen Gym also praised the Thompson pick. Gym and Thompson are the founders of the nonprofit advocacy group Parents United for Public Education.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, whose members have become mainstays at board meetings, declined to pass judgment on the picks, but were harshly critical of the selection process.

A 13-member nominating committee appointed by Kenney recommended nine people for the open seats, from which the mayor chose three. During the selection process questions arose about whether a committee member and a potential school board appointee met city residency requirements, and Kenney was criticized for allegedly holding deliberations out of public view. 

“The Mayor has today released information about his candidates — after they have been selected,” the group wrote in a press release. “This is not what democracy looks like.”

The mayor’s appointments are set to fill board seats left vacant by the resignations of Chris McGinley and Ameen Akbar last spring and fall, and fill the seat currently held by Lee Huang, who committed to serving until his replacement was selected.

Philadelphia is the only school district in Pennsylvania without an elected school board. Kenney has chosen all of the board’s members since 2018, after the School Reform Commission dissolved.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools endorsed one of the appointees.

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