New Philly school board members listen, but reveal little at first public appearance

Inside room 210 at Murrell Dobbins High School in North Philadelphia, a group of concerned citizens sat in a circle Wednesday night and spelled out their gripes with the city’s public education system.

Veteran teacher Robin Zatuchni lamented the lack of basic supplies.

Syreeta Campbell worried she won’t find a decent school for her son and doesn’t trust the one in her neighborhood.

April Abrams said she’s fed up with the byzantine school selection process.

Sitting among them was another concerned citizen, albeit one who may soon have the ability to fix the problems laid out in room 210.

Her name: Maria McColgan, one of nine Philadelphians recently named to the city’s new school board.

McColgan and three of her fellow appointees came to Dobbins Wednesday for the first of five “listening sessions” the Mayor’s Office of Education will hold over the next month. The sessions are part of a three-month orientation process for the new board members, who will assume control of the district on July 1st. The state-controlled School Reform Commission (SRC) remains in power until then.

As advertised, there was a lot of listening on Wednesday.

McColgan, Joyce Wilkerson, Angela McIver, and Wayne Walker spent much of the two hours in small groups listening to the 75 or so people who showed up to the inaugural meeting. The tone was earnest and civil, without the kind of high-volume acrimony that has taken over many SRC meetings over the years.

That said, the appointees were asked to reveal little of their personal or political philosophies. Those hoping to glean some insight into how these suddenly powerful appointees will vote on hot-button issues likely left disappointed. There was no formal opportunity to ask pointed questions of the appointees.

In the brief moments they spoke, several of the school board members stressed positivity and partnership.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we change the story, that we change the culture and that we start to look at the positive things about our district and the strengths of our district,” said McColgan when asked what her hopes for the district were.

“There are a lot of people here that want to make a difference and I’ve heard a lot of hope,” McColgan later said in her closing remarks.

“I feel like I was in church,” said McIver. “I was like, yes, to almost everything that was being said.”

McIver believes many constituents want more transparency than the SRC provided. The simple act of listening she hopes will signal a new era for school governance in Philadelphia.

“We want it to feel like it’s different,” McIver said.

There are four remaining “listening sessions,” to be held at the times and places listed below.

— Saturday, May 5, 2:00 PM at South Philadelphia Library, 1700 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145

— Thursday, May 10, 6:00 PM  at Blackwell Regional Library, 125 S. 52nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19139

— Friday, May 18, 6:00 PM at Coleman Regional Library, 68 W. Chelten Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19144

— Wednesday, May 23, 6:00 PM at Northeast Regional Library, 2228 Cottman Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19149

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