Philadelphia superintendent finalist hears community concerns

Superintendent candidate Pedro Martinez listens to Sharifa Garvey, 18, during a luncheon with students Monday. APRIL SAUL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Superintendent candidate Pedro Martinez listens to Sharifa Garvey, 18, during a luncheon with students Monday. APRIL SAUL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: June 27, 2012

SCHOOL DISTRICT superintendent candidate Pedro Martinez told the various groups he met with all day Monday that Philadelphia was a "passionate city."

He's no slouch himself.

Martinez, 42, deputy superintendent of Clark County School District in Nevada, met with members of City Council, teachers and charter school operators during the day, then with community members at night to lay out some of his ideas on how Philadelphia schools could get back on track.

He believes in communication. He believes high-performing schools should be left alone. He wants to bring financial stability back to the district, which has a $218 million projected shortfall in its 2012-13 budget. Even that figure will grow if the city doesn't honor the district's request for another $94 million. The city is on track to provide only $40 million.

"I want to make sure we have a long-term financial plan because we cannot be in this year after year trying to figure out what's going to happen next," Martinez said after he met with teachers. "It's amazing when you have financial stability what you can do. ... When a district is out of control financially, there's no confidence."

He did not give specifics on how he would turn the district around financially.

"I've been following Philly since 2000. I've seen the ebbs and flows. Every time there's a new leader, there's financial upheaval and things get slightly better but it's never enough," Martinez told community members and parents at Monday's public forum.

Before working in Clark County, Martinez was deputy superintendent at Washoe County (Reno) schools in Nevada, where he is currently a finalist for the superintendent job. The certified public accountant previously worked for Chicago Public Schools under Arne Duncan, now the U.S. secretary of education

His top priorities are "embracing the community, learning more about the culture and history of this amazing city," Martinez said, as well as having "critical conversations" in the community.

How will the district expand quality options for students? How will the district efficiently use all the talent in the community and in the district? How will it deal with its current deficits?

"That's the right conversation that has to occur," he said.

Community and parental reaction were mixed.

"We've been to a lot of these community meetings. It really took a lot of effort to get myself to come out here and listen again," said parent Sonya Brintnall, 41, who has two children in the district. "We can say whatever we want. We can ask whatever we want, they don't answer the questions. It's always kind of a tap dance."

Rosemarie Hatcher, president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council Board, said that by the end of the day, after watching his talks streamed live, she was sold on Martinez.

"I'm becoming very impressed with him," she said. “I believe he believes he can do this. He may accomplish what he feels he can do. He's extremely confident, it's a gut instinct, but I do think he can pull it off.

The second superintendent candidate, William R. Hite, will meet the public Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at school district headquarters on Broad Street near Spring Garden. 

Email Regina Medina at medinar@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @reginamedina

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