The following Op-Ed ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, July 15, 2012. Click here to view the Op-Ed.
Rob Wonderling is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce
The appointment of William R. Hite Jr. as Philadelphia School District superintendent marks an exciting turning point in our city’s history. The business community stands ready to continue its work in partnership with Gov. Corbett, Mayor Nutter, the School Reform Commission, Superintendent Hite, and our broader community to ensure that there is a bright future for every child in Philadelphia.
Recognizing that our region depends on high-quality schools that prepare every student for success in the workplace or college, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce has made a significant commitment over the last several years to the education and employment prospects of our youth.
Most notably, working with our partners, we have established the Read to Me Early Literacy Program for kindergarten and pre-K students, and a summer internship program for high school kids in Philadelphia and Chester. Read to Me has helped more than 6,000 district students with book collections, teacher training, parent/caregiver workshops, and classroom visits. The WorkReady intern program, begun in 2007, has provided 6,712 students with paid, private-sector positions, exposing them to a variety of career opportunities.
The chamber has also long been an advocate for increased state investment in public education to improve student outcomes and prepare tomorrow’s workforce.
A continued flat economic forecast for the private sector, combined with increasingly scarce public resources, requires a new way of thinking. We can’t squander time or money on intramural squabbles or hollow political rhetoric. As our incoming superintendent has said, we must all begin to practice a servant’s model of leadership — one focused on our children’s future. As Hite assembles his team, in coordination with the SRC, we must all work together to help Philadelphia’s students become outstanding citizens, lifelong learners, and successful participants in our 21st-century economy.
To ensure student achievement and fiscal stability in Philadelphia schools, the overall governance and education-delivery system must change. We must truly empower our principals and teachers, and we must assure that the maximum amount of public and private dollars goes directly to the classrooms.
That change started with the SRC’s superintendent search committee, on which I was honored to serve as one of several citizen representatives. I saw a process that was both thorough and inclusive.
Beginning in February, the United Way and the Project for Civic Engagement conducted 10 community-engagement forums. The meetings were open to the public and held in neighborhood high schools — one in each City Council district. Six other meetings were held by various groups throughout the city, including students, faith-based leaders, charter school CEOs, and groups such as Education First Compact and Young Involved Philadelphia. On Feb. 6, chambers of commerce throughout the city and other groups hosted a roundtable discussion on the future of the district and its leadership model.
To ensure transparency, the SRC and the search committee posted the notes from each of the 16 public forums on the SRC websit