Looking poised and confident, Pedro Martinez, who hopes to be Philadelphia’s next school superintendent, met concerned residents, educators and parents at the School District of Philadelphia 440 N. Broad Street on Monday evening.
During the event moderated by broadcaster E. Steven Collins, Martinez had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience about his history, educational philosophy and vision for the Philadelphia school district.
A line of people gathered at the microphone placed in the center of the auditorium for their chance to ask the would-be superintendent pointed questions about his ideas to reform a school district plagued by high dropout rates, insufficient funding and political divisiveness.
“What is your process or plan to engage parents, youth and community and how does it differ from the current plan?” asked Fred Ginyard of Youth United for Change. “How do we reform education in Philadelphia?”
“I feel the direction is clear, but there is a vacuum in details,” answered Martinez, who went on to recall his experiences reforming educational systems as deputy superintendent of the Clark County School District in Nevada.
“How can you be sure that families and children are effectively engaged?” asked Sylvia P. Simms, founder and president of the group Parent Power.
“It’s not negotiable that families be a part of the process,” answered Martinez, who said that such engagement starts with conversations with both teachers and students and said that during his career he visited hundreds of schools and spoke with thousands of teachers, school principals and students.
It is through such ongoing dialogue, said Martinez, that we can get an idea of what needs to be done.
“You are walking into a dysfunctional situation,” said Timothy Hannah. Hannah went on to describe what he considers some of the problems faced by the beleaguered school district, which Martinez would inherit if he was to become the new superintendent.
Martinez pointed to his history in both Washoe County School District as well as Chicago Public School districts where he said he increased graduation rates from 56 percent to 76 percent in a two year period in Washoe County and increased student proficiency rates from 40 to 70 percent in Chicago.
One woman, who identified herself as a retired school teacher, said she attended several of the meetings leading to the public interview and, despite differences among those in attendance, one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that the new superintendent should be an educator.
“Your training is as an accountant and a fiscal manager,” said the retired teacher, who said that she did not question Martinez’s passion or commitment, merely the fact that his educational background was in finance, not education. “How are you qualified to serve the school district when you have no degree in education?”
Martinez, who has a bachelor degree in accounting from the University of Illinois and a Masters from DePaul University in business management, assured that that the question was valid and that he was suitable for the position.
“I been in public education all of my life,” said Martinez, who said that all parts of the educational system, finance, educational standards and performance, go hand in hand.
“There is not a day that goes by where I’m not talking to a principal, or talking to a teacher about the issues.”