Maria McColgan is one of the first nine members appointed by Mayor Kenney to the Philadelphia Board of Education (BOE) in April 2018. Beginning in July 2018, the Board will oversee the School District of Philadelphia.
Maria’s career has always centered on children and education. Her experience as a teacher in Philadelphia public schools helped shape her passion for learning and education. As a Child Abuse Pediatrician, Maria has provided medical care for thousands of vulnerable children, first at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children where she was the Medical Director of the Child Protection Program, and now at the CARES Institute and Cooper Hospital where she serves as Fellowship Director. A graduate of Philadelphia public and parochial schools and Temple University, Maria is the proud parent of two current charter school students.
What area of the city do you call home?
I live in the Northeast – Torresdale – and that’s where we we’re raising our kids. But I spent the first 36 years of my life in South Philadelphia. I grew up in the Italian Market area and went to grade school in South Philadelphia.
What are your hobbies?
I mainly like to be with my family. We do a lot of cooking and inviting people over. I do love to go outdoors. An ideal day would be exploring parks with my kids.
Who were the people in your life – friends, family, mentors – who helped you to form your values and why?
Both of my parents are hardworking. My mother was a homemaker, so she stayed home with us, and she was always singing and reading to us. She made learning fun. My father was a teacher for a while, and the first in his family to go to college.
Being raised by them, there was always a clear expectation that my brothers and I would pursue higher education and be self-sufficient. I followed my older brothers to Central High School. One of them went to law school, one is a physician, and the other started his own computer company. And my sister is entrepreneurial author working on getting her book published.
What (or who) motivated you to apply to join the Board of Education?
When I heard that the SRC was dissolving, I remember immediately telling my husband that I wanted to be on the new school board. There are points in my life when I just know what I need to do, and this was one of them.
I have been an advocate for children throughout my career, and have experience with the District as a student and as a former teacher. As a child abuse pediatrician I spend a lot of time in court and see the challenges and negative outcomes that affect so many children. There are major things that need to be fixed, and I think my experience will help.
Tell us about your educational journey.
A journey is exactly what I would call it. I’m never done learning – I learn every single day. I plan to go back to school at some point.
I’ve known from a young age that I wanted to be a pediatrician, but in college I wasn’t sure if I would be ready for medical school. Instead I majored in psychology and then pursued a master’s degree in education. I taught for a couple of years at Taggart School and Smith Elementary, and a few other schools. I loved making learning real for my students and making the classroom an exciting and participatory space.
Those experiences prepared me excel in medical school, which is what I did next. When I was finishing my residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital, I worked in the emergency room and one of the doctors there encouraged me to start learning and focusing on child abuse. I became the director of the Child Protection Program at the hospital, as it was getting started. This meant implementing new programs, creating new protocols and policies for the hospital, and building relationships with the community, the District Attorney, Special Victims Unit and more.
I left St. Chris last year, so that I could develop and run a fellowship program at Rowan University to train other pediatricians in the specialty of child abuse pediatrics.
What are your personal goals for your service on the Board?
I want to be a support to Superintendent Hite, and to the teachers, and the principals. I want to help them build the schools that each community needs to educate their student population. One size does not fit all. I am also excited to bring my experiences in trauma-informed care to the Board.
What is it like to grow up in Philadelphia and now be on a board that will soon oversee public education for the city?
When you grow up in Philadelphia, you have a special passion for where you live. The students in these schools are our kids. They’re from my city, so they’re my kids. It’s a great honor to be on the board and be able to serve them.
Briefly, what vision do you have for our school system in 5 years?
We need to find innovative ways to bring a wealth of learning to our students and teach them how to have a passion for learning. A lot of information is at our fingertips with technology. So if we can teach children how to teach themselves, we’ve done them a great service. There’s no greater pleasure than learning something that’s new and exciting. I envision a system that allows flexibility so students to develop that passion. I would love to see more ways we can encourage and challenge children to meet their own potential. I don’t want us just teaching to the middle.
What do you hope to learn or gain a better understanding of during the listening tour and future engagement with the community?
I want to hear what parents’ thoughts are. I would love to hear constructive comments and ideas for solutions. I want to know what we can do, and not just what we haven’t done. I am hoping that teachers and administrators will come too, so that we can hear from everyone involved.