Herman Mattleman

Hilary Koprowski
Sister Mary Scullion, RSM

“Herman truly is one of those rare and special individuals who has a special talent for the giving of himself for others.” This is a remark made by Constance Clayton, school superintendent and close ally of Mattleman during his years on the Philadelphia Board of Education (1981-1990). A Philadelphia lawyer, Mattleman was selected because of his understanding of fiscal issues and several newspaper articles (co-authored with his wife Marciene) on educational issues. Mayor William Green III appointed Mattleman, Ernestine Rouse and Sam Katz to the board of education to bring reform to the failing system, and to reduce and better manage Philadelphia’s looming school deficit. In 1983 Mattleman was elected president of the school board, with the backing of Mayor Wilson Goode.

M attleman was born and raised in Philadelphia. His parents were Russian immigrants who instilled in their son the values of hard work and the importance of education. His father owned a kosher butcher shop. The family settled in a small Jewish neighborhood in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia. Mattleman is an admirable example of the possibilities within the Philadelphia public school system—he graduated from Fitzsimmons Middle School and Simon Gratz High School (as a B student), and went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania (1947) and its law school (1949). Mattleman began his legal career in the early 1950s, and today is a partner at Mattleman, Weinroth & Miller, P.C.

During his first year on the board of education, Mattleman raised various issues over costs and supplies. His colleague Sam Katz recalled Mattleman questioning the high price paid for toilet paper at his first board meeting, establishing himself as “tough, determined and humorous all at once.” During his nine years on the school board (seven as its president), Mattleman earned the respect of educators, politicians, community leaders, and parents because of his dedication and accessibility. He never once missed a board meeting, and brought a new style of leadership to the board, one based on consensus building and teamwork. He supported Clayton’s policies of implementing a standardized curriculum, tougher academic standards, and fiscal reform.

Mattleman was exposed to the truly difficult lives many Philadelphia students faced every day. Poverty, dysfunctional families, and the ravages of drugs were problems faced by a great many students. Mattleman first recognized the extent of the problem when visiting an elementary school. He observed that “the principal had a washing machine and kids would come in with their dirty clothes and she would wash them. And she and her staff would mend their clothes, too.” Mattleman was especially concerned by studies showing that the number of public school students in the city in poor to fair health was more than double the national average. Mattleman launched an initiative to create a district-wide, school health organization. The program proved to be too ambitious, but health clinics at some schools, including Benjamin Franklin and Bartram high schools, had limited success.

His final year as president was marked by tension with City Council over the board of education’s budget proposal. Mattleman’s advocacy for the students of Philadelphia was evident in his strident defense of the budget. He recognized that Philadelphia’s schools had to supply not just the basic educational needs of the student body, but also provide a sense of stability and community. He resigned in November 1990.

The day after his resignation, his wife Marciene signed him up for her Philadelphia Future’s program, committing him to mentoring a public school student once a week. Mattleman also remained active as chair of the city’s Educational Nominating Panel (1992-1999) and through his service on the boards of numerous organizations.

David B. Reader

Sources: The following articles are from the Philadelphia Inquirer: Editorial, “New Leadership, A New Era on the City School Board,” Dec.5, 1983; Tanya Barrientos, “Mattleman To Leave School Board,”Nov. 8, 1990; Barrientos, “Tough and Humorous, Mattleman Brought Stability to City Schools,” Nov. 10, 1990; Barrientos, “Board Bids Mattleman Goodbye With a Flourish,”Nov. 20, 1990; Barrientos, “For Mattleman, Another Exciting Chapter,”May 24, 1991; Mary Bishop, “Green Picks Three For School Board,” July 28, 1981; Vernon Loeb, “Mattleman Elected President of School Board,” Dec. 6, 1983; Linda Loyd, “Many Area Jews In Turmoil Over Beirut Killings,” Sept. 24, 1982; Dale Mezzacappa, “Mattleman Proposes Student Health Plan,” Sept. 15, 1987; Mezzacappa, “District Explores Ways To Improve Student’s Health,” Feb. 23, 1988; Mezzacappa, “Schools Plan Shows Gap Of $44 Million,” March 27, 1990; Mezzacappa, “Former School Official Asks District To Give Data In Bid To Sway Specter,” May 30, 1990; Martha Woodall, “PASA Chief Misleading Group, Says Mattleman,” Sept. 30, 1986.