Green, possible SRC chief, gives views on schools

CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 01, 2014

Is Bill Green interested in becoming chair of the School Reform Commission?

Sources say he is a finalist for the job; Green is mum on the subject.

But the current city councilman is clear in his view that the Philadelphia School District is failing far too many children, and change must come quickly.

"Eliminating all the bad seats in the School District is a concept I think is important to pursue," Green said Monday. "There are tens of thousands of kids in underperforming schools."

The district's governing body has been leaderless since Oct. 23, when Pedro Ramos resigned because of a family emergency. Gov. Corbett has acknowledged the need for a speedy decision on a new SRC chair, and said he is down to "a few names," but has said he will take the time he needs to find the right person.

As the district heads into its budget-building season, the unpaid job takes on extra importance. The school system's financial crisis shows no signs of abating, and the SRC must adopt a 2014-15 preliminary budget in March.

Green declined to comment on his candidacy for SRC chair, but did speak about some of his educational philosophies.

In the last four years, he has issued two policy papers suggesting "radical and transformative" fixes for the district - more charters, fewer district schools, vouchers, longer school day and year, breaking up big schools, more social and academic supports.

His views have evolved, Green said. He previously advocated abolishing the SRC; now he believes that it has all of the powers it needs to make change, and that it should continue to exist.

Traditional public schools are still necessary, Green said, but not for tradition's sake. Some district schools are doing a great job, but others "are doing a horrible job - I would say not educating children or preparing them to have a productive life."

"I want children in schools that are failing them to be in schools that don't fail them," Green said. "Whether or not that is a public school or a charter, I am completely indifferent."

For more than a decade, students have fled the district in startling numbers - a school system that used to have more than 200,000 students now has 131,000.

The Ramos-led SRC took some steps toward shutting schools, closing a few dozen, but Green said the district "failed to be nimble in preparing itself for the competition from charter schools, and it has to change the way it operates in the future regarding planning."

Though he is a charter supporter, Green said he also believes that charter schools need much more robust oversight, and that bad ones must be shut down.

The current setup, with a handful of district staff supervising charters, is inadequate, he said.

"Three to five people just isn't enough to manage 80 charters," he said.

Green previously suggested that strong charters be given the right to expand as much as they like. Now, he said, he realizes that "there are serious issues related to the resource constraints that exist in the district" and that charter expansion decisions have to be considered "in the context of the dollars available."

Green made frequent reference to the filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan's book, I Got Schooled, in which he listed five keys to successful schools, including strong teachers and the ability to get rid of ineffective ones, frequent feedback for school staff, and principals who focus on improving teaching and building good school culture.

Those things can happen in district schools, Green said.

"But I think the question is: How do you have a continuous improvement model in traditional public schools, given bureaucracies and contracts and everything else in place?" Green said. "I do think it's possible, but I think it requires everyone to focus on children."

Green expressed support for Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. - "I'm a huge fan" - and said he "needs to be supported so that he can move forward with his plans."

He declined to talk specifics on school funding or how the district ought to move forward in this time when resources are so scarce, many schools lack full-time counselors and nurses.

Green, whose name has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in 2015, would have to leave Council to serve as SRC chair.

Also mentioned as a possible SRC chair is former Convention Center president Al Mezzaroba. Another SRC seat comes open shortly. Among the names in the mix for that seat are Farah Jimenez, head of the People's Emergency Center, and Keith Leaphart, a doctor, entrepreneur, and chair of the Lenfest Foundation.


kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146 @newskag

www.inquirer.com/schoolfiles

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