As I wake to four separate emails with the court order attached, I imagine there’s a few folks who want my opinion on what sparked Judge Dozor to appoint Nafis Nichols as the school Receiver.

I don’t write much about school district stuff because I can never understand what goes on based on what I see, hear and read, and today is no exception.

Below, I’ll try my best to interpret what the actual court order appointing an Interim Receiver for the Chester-Upland School District is trying to say by highlighting a few passages. 

In anticipation of the vacancy of the position of a Receiver and to have a smooth and uninterrupted Receivership, this Court received a Petition for Appointment of Permanent Receiver of Chester Upland School District or, In the Alternative, an Interim Receiver filed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education on July 27, 2021…and scheduled and held a Hearing on this Petition on August 5, 2021.

Yesterday, Friday the 13th of August, is when the judge made his decision based on what transpired at the hearing on August 5.

There seemed to be two candidates they were considering for the job. The Pennsylvania Department of Education recommended Michael Pladus, Ed.D, (“Dr. Pladus’’). He’s a veteran educator who formerly led the Interboro School District for 9-years, the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District and served 10-years as superintendent in the Upper Dublin School District. In 1999 he won the MetLife/National Association of Secondary School Principals National Principal of the Year Award. I believe he is currently working with or for Chester-Upland in the recovery capacity. 

None of Pladus’ accomplishments as an educator was mentioned in the court order, but here’s what the judge wrote about Nichols…

Nafis J. Nichols who offered a verbal Petition for consideration as Receiver and was supported by Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, Senator John I. Kane, Friends of Chester Community Charter, Chester Charter School for the Arts as well as the Chester Community Charter School.

Nafis J. Nichols, is a graduate of Chester High School and has been a resident of the City, provides municipal and government experience and expertise, including valuable experience with government, financial and budget requirements, management, accounting, human resources and other key functions of Receivership and the Districts return to financial stability.

Candidate Nichols meets the Statutory requirements for appointment and provides experiences, and a spectrum of talents and traits that may assist with the success of receivership and financial recovery, as well as the financial and educational tasks ahead for the District and all students, staff, teachers and parents.

Candidate Nichols’ public and private sector experiences identifies strengths in management, book keeping, human resources, public relations, grant applications, contract negotiations, collective bargaining agreements and Act 47 Recovery (Borough of Colwyn) Plan(s), and third-party vendors for municipal financial roles.

In my opinion, Pladus is leaps and bounds more qualified for this position based on his educational background and experience. He has a PhD in education versus Nichols’ high school diploma and he spent an entire career leading school districts in various leadership capacities (for what that’s worth). 

The Chester-Upland School Community provides unique community dynamics. The Community is very much engaged, informed, sincere and committed to recovery and improving educational opportunities for their students. Community support for recovery and pursuing educational excellence is crucial for the success of Receivership.

I’m not sure what ‘Community’ the judge is speaking of. If it’s the community of parents, I’m not sure they are very much engaged, informed, sincere and committed to recovery based on their lack of understanding of what’s going on in the district and their lack of participation at school board meetings, court hearings, and PTA activities. Chester’s parents want a safe, clean, learning environment for their children and are trusting that the adults running the schools are doing the right thing. 

Community support for the Receiver’s leadership, work product and initiatives are fundamentally and practically important. Candidate Nichols exhibits strengths of pursuing communication, collaboration and coalition.

I’m not sure what history of evidence the judge is basing Nichols strengths of pursuing communication, collaboration and coalition. We’ve known him as the Chief Financial Officer of the City of Chester for the past 4-ish years and there hasn’t been much public facing communication, collaboration and coalition. In fact, with the city right in the midst of receivership, is this a good time for the Chief Financial Officer to be taking another job? Isn’t he a key guy working with the City’s Receiver? Won’t his absence leave a huge hole in trying to fix the city’s finances? Or, is he that expendable?

Here’s the terms to which the judge appointed Nichols…

It is further ORDERED and DECREED that Nafis J. Nichols is appointed to serve as the Interim Receiver for the Chester Upland School District for a term to begin on September 1, 2021.

The balance of the receivership term ends on June 3, 2022, and the term of Financial Recovery is winding down, this Appointment to serve this transitional period as an Interim Receivership ends June 3, 2022, or sooner if the Financial Recovery status ends, or later by further Order of Court.

If there is truly a community that is very much engaged, informed, sincere and committed to recovery and improving educational opportunities for students, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from them soon.