Harrisburg today lost one of its leaders in school reform, as Gerald Welch has died from complications of COVID-19.
Welch, 56, passed away after being admitted to the hospital over the weekend.
“It is a very sad day for Harrisburg,” said Chris Celmer, the district’s acting superintendent, in a tweet this morning. “Please keep the Welch family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. Mr. Welch cared deeply for the students and staff of the Harrisburg SD.”
Celmer and district receiver Janet Samuels later issued a joint statement.
”We are truly saddened by the passing of Harrisburg school board director, Mr. Gerald Welch, a true champion for others,” they said. “We applaud and are extremely grateful for the unwavering support that Mr. Welch shared with the students, families and staff of the Harrisburg school district. As a true public servant, Mr. Welch was a passionate advocate for students and the broader community. The incredible manner in which Mr. Welch served and gave to others was a positive gift to our district.”
They added that Welch would be honored at a “special time of remembrance” at the district’s April 20 virtual board meeting.
Welch last year joined a group of five challengers pushing for substantial school reform following a series of missteps and scandals in the Harrisburg school district. All five candidates emerged victorious in the Democratic primary then won board seats in the November general election.
A year ago, in a series of candidate debates, Welch was vocal in urging the district to improve student graduation rates and ensure that more Harrisburg students went to college.
“I would like to see more college enrollment,” he said at one debate. “That’s the reason I got involved in the school board race, because we were lacking in graduation rates.”
At another debate, he told the story of his own life as a high school dropout who later earned a master’s degree in social work, and repeatedly encouraged the other candidates and the school community to treat one another with respect and empathy.
“If you treat everybody with dignity, honor and respect, you can deal effectively with having a diverse community,” he said.
TheBurg will update this story as more information becomes available.