By Chanel Hill
PHILADELPHIA — For Lisa Salley, her new role on the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia is an opportunity to help young people receive the quality education that she herself once received.
“My family tree is loaded with educators and they pushed for equal quality education. Now it’s my turn to do the same thing” Salley said. “I’m a product of the Philadelphia public education system and my experience there has allowed me to see the world and compete on a global basis.
“I want to help children not only have an education that prepares them to become a global citizen who embraces technology, but to also make a positive impact on society.”
Mayor Jim Kenney appointed Salley, along with attorney Reginald Streater and longtime education advocate Cecelia Thompson, last month.
Kenney selected the appointees from a list of nine nominees recommended by the Educational Nominating Panel. Eighty-two people had applied to fill the three Board of Education vacancies.
Salley, Streater and Thompson replaced Christopher McGinley, Ameen Akbar and Lee Huang. McGinley and Akbar’s seats have been vacant while Huang served until the trio’s appointment.
“I welcome our new colleagues who bring diverse voices and valuable experience to the table,” said board president Joyce S. Wilkerson in a statement. “They will be joining the Board of Education at a critical moment for the School District, as we sharpen our focus on the academic success of all of our students through the Board’s adoption of Goals and Guardrails.”
In December, the Board of Education adopted Goals and Guardrails, a five-year plan to raise student achievement in Philadelphia public schools.
The board will dedicate a significant percentage of its time to setting achievement goals in reading, math, and college and career readiness.
The plan will also feature “guardrails,” which are conditions needed in all schools to achieve academic goals. The guardrails will focus on having safe and welcoming schools, offering co-curricular activities, partnering with parents and guardians, and dismantling racist practices that result in different outcomes for students.
“Some of the things that I bring to the Board of Education is my ability to listen and collaborate,” Salley said. “The guardrails are clearly our roadmap to push for a 21st century school. If you look at where we are today versus coming into education for the 21st century, there’s a strategic transformation involved.
“The guardrails not only become how we get there, but it also involves listening and engaging stakeholders,” she added. “I want to be a key part of that. Right now, I’m new so I’m taking advantage of being new and having the opportunity to listen to all voices.”
Salley, a 45-year-old native of Philadelphia, graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical and materials engineering as well as a master’s degree in simulation and modeling of manufacturing systems from Carnegie Mellon University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, respectively.
As an engineer and business executive, Salley has spent her career in corporate America leading global strategy and operations in energy, specialty chemicals and emerging technologies, which includes officer-level roles at GE, Underwriters’ Laboratories and the American Petroleum Institute. She has also advised advanced-stage startups.
She advises intellectual property, product strategy and commercialization for Arduro, a science company that develops, manufactures and commercializes recycled carbon black.
Salley said that the pandemic has “really put the pot on boil with all the discussion on education,” and she hopes those discussions move from “no, it can’t be done, to how it could be done?”
“The pandemic has prepared us in a way for figuring out what the 21st-century school looks like and how to prepare children to be productive citizens in the future in a way that they define for themselves,” Salley said. “We have to figure out how to get them there.
“We have a lot of work to do, but it begins with what the children need to be successful and a willingness for kids to be served by the adults in a way where we can’t disappoint them,” she added. “I want to work collaboratively to discover the root cause and to find a solution.”
Salley said what she wants families to know is that the board members are there for them and if there is something on their minds to reach out.
“Reach out to us about your concerns on what’s working and what’s not working,” Salley said. “We need to know what’s needed for your child to be successful. We’re seeking your voice in the Board of Education.
“Help us with the goals and guardrails, but most importantly help us make the Philadelphia School District serve all abilities and all socioeconomic levels,” she added. “Help us help the children of today and tomorrow.”
Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.