SRC's new chairman shakes up business as usual

New SRC chairman Pedro Ramos (right) said he wanted to adjust meeting start times so people who work days could attend.
New SRC chairman Pedro Ramos (right) said he wanted to adjust meeting start times so people who work days could attend. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 17, 2011

In his first meeting as chairman, Pedro Ramos wasted no time in shaking up the way the School Reform Commission does business.

At a packed Wednesday session, Ramos said he was creating committees to deal with SRC business more efficiently and transparently. He said he wanted to move some meeting times later, so people who work during the day could attend.

And he allowed members of the audience to ask questions - a departure from the way the commission has done business in the past.

Ramos had earlier said that "at times, it looks like the SRC's trying to drink water through a fire hose."

The SRC will now have four standing committees, a structure that will allow for deeper exploration of issues and "higher-level discussion," Ramos said. He will chair the finance and audit committee until Feather O. Houstoun, a gubernatorial nominee, is confirmed by the state Senate.

A safety and engagement committee will be chaired by Lorene Cary; a committee on charters, choice, turnaround, and the district's facilities master plan will be helmed by Joseph Dworetzky; and a committee to consider matters of career and technical education, innovation, data, rigor, and integrity will be overseen by Wendell Pritchett.

Other committees will be created as necessary, Ramos said. A "small but very high-level group" will look at ethics, rules, and procedures.

The SRC also heard presentations on the district's turnaround schools at the meeting.

Both types of turnaround schools - district-run Promise Academies and Renaissance charters run by outside providers - show early signs of success, district staff and an outside group hired to examine the effort have concluded.

School climate improved at both; violent incidents were down, attendance was up.

State test scores are up, and two schools - Potter-Thomas and Dunbar - that had never met state standards did so for the first time.

But assistant superintendent Joel Boyd warned that the district's budget woes had already begun affecting Promise Academies.

"Cuts are inherently going to lead to a deceleration of the turnaround process," Boyd said.

More evaluation of the turnaround schools is to come, but Scott Gordon, chief executive officer of Mastery Charter Schools, said there were enough data to know the movement was working.

"The results are dramatic. . . . I'd hate to be focused on process questions when bottom-line answers are actually available," Gordon said.

Commissioners later voted on resolutions, but two failed to pass - a signal of this panel's unwillingness to OK nonemergency contracts where work began without the SRC's approval.

Dworetzky has long expressed frustration over that practice.

The SRC voted down a measure to pay $1,050 for printing done in February for "Protect Public Education," a campaign that at the time was billed as a citizens' effort to lobby for funding for the district. A contract for $83,316 for Temple University and the Council of Chief State School Officers for work on a grant program was also voted down because of insufficient justification, Dworetzky said.

"My complaint is not against the vendors who did the work," Dworetzky said, but rather against district staff for failing to produce appropriate justifications. "Somebody has to take ownership of this. There have to be consequences."

After more information is provided, the resolutions will go before the SRC again.

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