Armbrister resigns, Corbett names Houstoun replacement
Denise McGregor Armbrister became the third member of the School Reform Commission to resign within a month, her resignation Wednesday coming on the heels of the departures of Chairman Robert L. Archie and Johnny Irizarry.
Not long after the ink on her resignation had dried, Gov. Tom Corbett moved to fill the vacancy with Thursday’s nomination of Feather O’Connor Houstoun.
“Feather Houstoun’s experience and depth of knowledge in public service will be a tremendous asset to help lead Philadelphia’s educational community,” Corbett said. “She understands many of the needs and challenges facing the children who attend our state’s largest public school system, and her experience running large public systems will bring a special expertise to the SRC.”
In June, Corbett named former City Solicitor Pedro Ramos as his choice to replace Archie as SRC chair.
However, Ramos is still awaiting state Senate confirmation. It is believed that Houstoun and Ramos will go through their state Senate confirmation hearings simultaneously to expedite the reformation of the SRC with its full complement of five members.
Earlier this month, Mayor Michael Nutter appointed Rutgers University-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett to the SRC. He followed that up with the appointment of arts ambassador Lorene Carey. Joseph Dworetzky, whose term expires in 2014, is a gubernatorial appointment and now the longest tenured member of the Commission. He has been a member of the SRC for two years.
All of Armbrister’s children have been educated in the Philadelphia public schools, and she still has a daughter in the 11th grade in the district. In a recent phone conversation, Armbrister, who had already served four years on the SRC and would have seen her term expire in January, said she wanted to move out of the way so the governor could make an appointment and therefore move the Senate hearing ahead more quickly.
“I’m hoping this will expedite the process, that a fifth commission member will be named and the confirmation process can quickly begin,” Armbrister said. “It is complex and it is time-consuming. It is a lot of work.”
As priorities for the SRC, Armbrister mentioned the continued efforts to close the $680 million budget gap that has reduced the number of workers at headquarters by 50 percent and the number of employees district-wide by 30 percent. She touched on the huge undertaking that is the facilities master plan, a key component of the school district’s five-year strategic plan, Imagine 2014.
She also said that while the job of an SRC member is “extremely challenging work,” she did not suggest, as some have, that it should be a paid position.
“I want to say that I felt honored and humbled to take on this responsibility,” Armbrister, speaking of her tenure, said. “The work of the SRC is incredibly honorable work that, I assure you, none of the people whom I worked with took the responsibilities lightly. However, I don’t think that it should be a paid position.
“I owe a great deal of gratitude to my fellow commissioners,” Armbrister continued. “Hopefully the new and reconstituted commission can be put in place quickly and the SRC can go about the very crucial job of providing the children in the school district the best possible education. Nothing is more important than that. Nothing.”
“Feather Houstoun is one of Philadelphia’s most dedicated and accomplished public servants, and her appointment will help the SRC move forward with its difficult and critical work,” Nutter said. “While serving at the William Penn Foundation, Feather left an undeniably positive and lasting impact on the entire Philadelphia region. As a SRC member, she would be able to bring her expertise and passion to improving the lives of Philadelphia’s students.
“We look forward to the Pennsylvania Senate taking up the nominations for Pedro Ramos and Feather Houstoun,” she said. “Their quick confirmations will allow the new SRC to get on with their important work of identifying the next superintendent of the district and managing through complex budget and facilities issues.”
Houstoun, 65, is president of the William Penn Foundation. She has been the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare under Gov. Tom Ridge; worked as the chief financial officer for SEPTA; and served as treasurer of the state of New Jersey.