Inquirer Editorial: Finally, search begins

Posted: January 11, 2012

Since Mayor Nutter wants to speed up the reform of Philadelphia schools, it was good to see the School Reform Commission pick up the pace toward hiring a superintendent.

It would make little sense for the system's interim administration to make any dramatic changes to the schools' operation until a new CEO is on board.

Toward that end, the SRC finally announced the members of its superintendent search team on Tuesday and a series of community meetings, which will conclude in February, that will be an important part of the process.

Nutter, who has made improving the city's troubled schools a top priority for his second term, recently visited the Denver school system to take a firsthand look at a model that could yield promise in Philadelphia.

Nutter was impressed with what he saw in Denver, where some of the most troubled schools are managed internally with little interference from the district's central office, while others have been converted into charters.

Like Denver, Philadelphia received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation after agreeing to a "Great Schools Compact," which promises greater cooperation with charter schools and more "high quality" options for low-performing schools.

Nutter's sense of urgency is warranted. Philadelphia schools have been in disarray for too long. Faced with a budget crisis, the district still hasn't implemented cost-cutting measures. It needs a complete restructuring and a different way of operating.

"Clearly, there is a need to replace much of what exists at the School District - both by function and, I believe increasingly, by personnel," said Nutter. Well, the biggest personnel decision to be made is who will be the next superintendent, especially if Nutter wants the district to emulate Denver, which has pushed to decentralize school operations.

The longer it takes to find a permanent replacement for ousted Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, the longer the delay in making sweeping changes will be. The SRC said its aim is to have a new superintendent named by July, which would allow the new CEO to take charge before the start of the 2012-13 school year.

"We believe we can complete the search before September," said SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos, "and we will continue until we have the right leader for our district and our system of schools. We will not settle."

Interim schools chief Leroy D. Nunery II has done a creditable job trying to keep the ship upright following one of the most tumultuous times in district history. But Nunery, who has said he wants the job permanently, has to prove that he can be more than a caretaker and has ideas beyond what his former boss offered if he is to be seriously considered.

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