Can Joe Watkins save Chester Upland?
Joe Watkins is a believer.
Some might call him a dreamer.
If, as expected, he is about to be named the receiver in charge of the Chester Upland School District, he likely will need to be both.
Watkins, the district’s chief recovery officer who crafted the recovery plan that was rejected by the elected Chester School Board Monday night, joined us for our live-stream broadcast ‘Live From the Newsroom’ last night.
We were joined by Anthony Johnson, one of the four Democrats on the board who voted in favor of the plan. It was shot down on a 5-4 vote, with all five Republicans voting against.
It doesn’t make much difference. As our editorial points out today, the state now almost certainly will petition the court to put the district back under state control, where it spent 16 of the last 18 years. The vote by the board was to determine if they will have any say in the recovery process as it moves forward.
The court also will appoint a receivery. The smart money says that person will be Watkins.
After spending a half hour with him last night, I can tell you Chester Upland would be lucky to have him.
I can admit when Watkins was first appointed chief recovery officer, I was one of those with a raised eyebrow. Watkins has close ties to the school choice and charter movement. It would be easy to see this as simply the next move in what many in Chester believe to be the Corbett Administration’s end game: Continue to strangle Chester Upland financially until they are forced to close the doors, then turn the whole thing over to the charter school operators who fill his campaign chest.
That was my initial suspicion about Watkins.
But he made clear that was not his goal. And he stood by it last night.
Watkins insists the recovery plan is a bid to save the Chester Upland School District, not destroy it.
More importantly, Watkins talks about what the district can - and should be. He talks about excellence, and making sure kids in Chester Upland have the same opportunities that every other Delaware County kid has. And he's the first to admit that everyone has a stake in that process, and that there must be accountability from parents, students, teachers and staff.
It’s a tall order. He’s the first to admit it.
I’d like to see him get the chance. Some mock the plan, say it has no chance of success, that the whole thing is rigged against the district. They may be right. Joe Watkins is ready to tilt at windmills.
Do miracles happen? In Chester Upland?
I have a feeling we’re about to find out.