After her first four-hour meeting as chair of the state’s School Reform Commission, which directs the Philadelphia School District, Joyce Wilkerson realized how much extra work the position will be.
“It ran past my bedtime,” Wilkerson said of the Nov. 15 meeting.
Mayor Jim Kenney appointed Wilkerson to the SRC on Nov. 3 after Marjorie Neff, the previous SRC chair and former principal at Masterman High School in Spring Garden, resigned in October. Wilkerson has spent the past two years as Temple’s senior adviser of community relations and development for the university’s presidents.
Wilkerson said her position on the SRC will not affect her position at the university. Her two jobs “run along parallel tracks,” she said, adding, “It all fits together. I don’t see it as an either-or situation.”
To avoid creating a conflict of interest with the SRC, Wilkerson said she will abstain from voting whenever the district and Temple work together, like the College of Education’s partnerships with some of the city’s public and charter schools. The board is developing further protocol to counteract any other potential conflicts of interest, she added.
“Any time Temple tries to strike a deal with the district, I have to abstain,” she said. “I can’t be involved in that.”
Because the issues she deals with at the university and the issues she will deal with as chair of SRC are consistently centered around community engagement and education, Wilkerson said she doesn’t think balancing the two positions will be too much to handle.
“One [position] helps inform my work in the other,” she said. “So what I’m doing at the district helps inform what I do at Temple.”
During her two years at Temple, Wilkerson worked with the College of Education, nearby public schools and the surrounding community, so she said she is informed about many of the city’s concerns, like funding and access to resources.
The office of community relations and development deals with various community education programs, like the LEAP Project, through the Beasley School of Law, which educates middle school and high school students in the area about law, democracy and citizenship.
Now, Wilkerson is working with the College of Education and the Laborers’ District Council Education and Training Apprenticeship Fund to use the Temple Sports Complex as a job-training center. An area next to the complex is in the process of becoming a training facility for local union workers and community residents. The facility will also offer general education development courses.
Wilkerson has also been a part of Temple’s work on the North Philadelphia Health Enterprise Zone, a collaborative effort among the state’s Department of Human Services, Department of Education and the mayor to improve health care in the area.
Wilkerson’s involvement in HEZ helped her focus on education and community issues in the city, she said.
As chair of SRC, Wilkerson said she wants to “flesh out a fuller plan” for where the district will go in the future by stabilizing its finances and providing teachers with contracts, which they have been without for three years, she said.
SRC Commissioner William Green said Wilkerson’s experience in Philadelphia proves she is qualified for her new position, but they have differing views.
“I think she’s a great addition to the SRC, but we’re just getting to know each other from a policy perspective,” he added. “Based on those conversations, I think we will have some differences.”
Despite those differences, Green said he believes they will be able to work respectfully and in the best interest for the children of Philadelphia.
Commissioner Farah Jimenez said the time Wilkerson spent in the city as former Mayor John Street’s chief of staff will make her a beneficial addition to the SRC.
“I’ve known Joyce for a long time,” Jimenez said. “I’ve known her since she was in the Street administration, and what I know about her is that she is a super-committed civil servant who is led by a mission and a desire to have real outcomes.”
Kelly Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_kellybrennan.