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The first meeting of our New Board of Education today is a momentous occasion for our school community. It is a time for renewal, a time for rebirth, and a time for the rebuilding of our community.
The rebirth of our Board of Education is especially meaningful to those of us who have lived through it all. I was here 17 years ago when the state took over our schools. In fact, I was in the Superintendent’s office at 21st & the Parkway on the very day that the state’s officers came to Philadelphia.
The Superintendent’s office was empty when I had walked through the door that day, except for the two voices coming from the side room with the open door. I will never forget those voices and the desperation that they conveyed. “They are coming today! They are coming today. They are on their way right now!”
I quickly back-pedaled right out of that door. Whew!
Those words resound in my mind today. That day set off a period of our history like no other which our school community has ever seen.
From the very start of the takeover of our schools, our school children, our parents our teachers, our principals and our school communities have been subjected to constant turmoil like we have never seen before in our history. Turmoil which has threatened to break the very fabric of our school community.
The constant turmoil and the starvation of our public schools must end if we are ever going to build a Great school community which serves all of our children well. We have seen too many of our public schools closed and children displaced as if they are commodities in a marketplace. They are not.
Our school children are the beneficiaries of a public trust. A public trust which is in the hands of the new Board of Education. The new Board has the duty to protect all children in every school whether they be public schools or charter schools. It can be no other way.
Yes, there are many successes which we can point to over the years, but they are more like flowers strewn across a war torn land blowing in the breeze of the morning sunshine. The sunshine of what can be a new Day.
The words of the Deidre Farmbry, the Superintendent who heroically held our district together during that first year of the takeover, are just as important today as they were then. She said to us, “You did nothing wrong. You are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Focus on what is important – the children and their schooling. Don’t get caught up in the lunacy that surrounds us.”
Those words resonate today because we are now at “The right place at the right time.” We the people are still here. It is time to pick up the pieces and move forward — together.
Our new school board gives us Hope. A hope for a true Renaissance in public education in Philadelphia. Hope for a new Beginning.
Yes it is. It is the Right Place at the Right Time!
It is the right place and the right time for our new Board of Education to renew and rebuild our community and our commitment to all of our school children.
It will be no easy task for our new Board but that is its mission. It is also “our collective mission.” The common denominator of all great schools and all great school districts is that they are Great school communities. That is true whether a school teaches the most needy students or the most able students. Community matters.
So does a collective vision matter. “Trust formation” is the most essential element of effective leadership. The task of our new school board members is to rebuild “basic trust.” Trust in the democratic process which the Board must safequard. Trust in the transparency and openness of that process. Without which — there can be no Greatness in our schools.
No child, no person, no community can become all it can be in a state of constant turmoil and in a state of distrust. Anyone who knows the first thing about developmental psychology knows that “stability” is essential to healthy growth. The healthy growth of a child and the healthy growth of an organization of people depends on stability, a sense of security and trust.
To build trust we must have an open climate with full transparency. The move toward transparency and trust must be led by our new school board. As one effective leader once said, “Trust is a risk game – the leader must ante up first.”
It is time for leadership that brings us together.
If we could just shake-hands on the need to build trust, integrity and credibility in what we do, we will be on our way to rebuilding our community and renewing our schools.
If that happens, and we are indeed ushering in a new history, this truly will be – a Momentous Occasion.