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Philadelphia principal has President Obama's ear

The West Philadelphia head is gathering ideas to present to the White House.

Sharif El-Mekki. Credit: Department of Education. Sharif El-Mekki. Credit: Department of Education.

Sharif El-Mekki brought a principal's empathy along with a twist of Philly attitude to Washington D.C.

The principal of Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus in West Philadelphia was chosen by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in December as one of three school heads to participate in the inaugural Principal Ambassador Fellowship (PAF) program.

The role is to advise the Obama administration on education reform as well as offer feedback on the education system and offer suggestions on how to help foster community engagement.


El-Mekki and the other two principals — from Chattanooga, Tennessee and Washington D.C. — have spoken to a combined 600 principals. And a common gripe: "The role of the principal, I think, is misunderstood," he said.

"And developing a compelling narrative of just what the principals role is," he added. "Even that, getting on the same page around what the principal's role looks like, what the assistant principal's role looks like, how does a pipe line of principals get developed … and how can the federal government support states and districts developing principals."

On May 1, El-Mekki will attend a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House where several teachers, principals and superintendents will be recognized.

Will he have to opportunity to show President Barack Obama some Philly Love? "We'll see," he said.

Spreading the Charter School model?

As principal of a local charter school, El-Mekki has discussed the idea of spreading that model throughout the country and dumping the public school system model.

"But the [education] secretary has been pretty clear that he's more interested in great options for families, and great schools regardless of the makeup," he said.

The group will present its findings to Duncan this week. Afterward, the group will have a year to help the department craft a new policy.

"And then implementation," El-Mekki said. "Which is always the bigger, more challenging part, right?"


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