Honoring Education Leaders of Pennsylvania


Metro’s Education Power Players are game changers who are working towards educational equity by increasing opportunities, reforming legislation, diversifying the teacher pipeline, and providing support to achieve student and teacher enrichment. This list was curated to highlight individuals who are changing how we think about and interact with education, both in Pennsylvania and beyond. Join us in congratulating this year’s Education Power Players and the crucial resources that they provide to our community.

Pennsylvania’s K-12 population is increasingly diverse, yet less than 7% of teachers in the commonwealth are people of color, hence the call for the diversification of the teacher pipeline. In 2019, Sharif El-Mekki founded The Center for Black Educator Development, a nonprofit dedicated to tackling this issue by increasing the number of Black educators. The Center supports and empowers Black students, paraprofessionals, and educators, and leads with the idea that all educators should be committed to equitable access, race, and social justice consciousness as they engage in teaching practices.

El-Mekki, a former nationally recognized principal and US Department of Education principal ambassador fellow, also serves as CEO of The Center, which now boasts resources such as the Liberation Academy, the Freedom Schools Literacy Academy, and professional workshops focused on topics like cultural identity and systemic bias. The Center also organizes conferences, including the Black Men Educator Convening, which will be running this Fall from November 17 to 19, and will focus on discussing the work done by Black male educators to redefine the educational landscape. 

An education nonprofit, Philadelphia Futures, is making strides in providing high-quality educational programs to low-income, first-generation students. Its president and CEO, Sara Woods, believes that “creating partnerships and community is the foundation of our collective success. We cannot do this alone.” With this in mind, Philadelphia Futures is merging with Steppingstone Scholars this Fall, and will provide even more support and opportunities to Philadelphia students.

Philadelphia Futures currently serves around 600 students annually through its staple direct service programs, Sponsor-A-Scholar, College Connection, and College Success. Sponsor-A-Scholar is a college access program aiding Philadelphia public school students from high school through college through academic enrichment, college guidance, and mentorship. On the other hand, the College Connection and College Success programs go hand in hand, and guide students through the process of applying to college and completing college. 

“The mission of the Philadelphia Education Fund is to provide equitable access to opportunities for Philadelphia students,” says president and CEO Farah Jimenez, “we focus our work in under-resourced schools in the hopes of reaching students least likely to have access to college advising.” Jimenez has 20 years of nonprofit leadership experience, and in her current role, she serves over 30,000 students and teachers annually. Prior to this, Jimenez was a commissioner for the School District of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission.

The Philadelphia Education Fund offers a variety of services and resources for Philadelphia students, including PhillyGoes2College, a free online college access solution providing information on college programs and preparedness, career success, and financial aid. The Fund also provides financial assistance through Philadelphia Scholars, a last-dollar non-university-based scholarship program awarding students $600K in aid annually.

The City of Philadelphia has also developed several free services for students and their families. In an interview with Otis Hackney, chief education officer for the city since 2015, we discussed PHLconnectED, a digital access initiative for K-12 student households: “[the program] has provided over 21,000 connections [for free] to families across the city. When we say connection, that can be a wired option, so that could be internet essentials to a hotspot that a student may receive.” Hackney oversaw the launch and expansion of the program, which will be available through Summer 2023, and will serve those with only mobile internet access or without internet access, those experiencing housing insecurity, and those using public benefits like Medicaid and SNAP. 

Hackney also discussed his critical role in establishing PHLpreK, which “[was] launched in the first term of [the Kenney administration], but [is] now in the Office of Children and Families.” PHLpreK has served more than 13,000 children since 2017, and provides free, high-quality pre-K education at more than 180 early childhood centers in Philadelphia. A dedicated and experienced educator, Hackney serves as the lead liaison between the city, the school district, school boards, and the Philadelphia community.

Dr. Stacy Holland, an education leader with 30 years of experience in creating and employing educational solutions, is the executive director of Elevate 215. In this capacity, Dr. Holland works to transform the public education experience in Philadelphia through a focus on collaboration, investment in schools, and an expansion of access and resources for students and their families. 

Elevate 215 seeks to modernize the educational system in Philadelphia schools, and they are credited with establishing GreatPhillySchools, a free online resource that makes school information accessible to families and students across the city. Launched in 2018, Apply Philly Charter is also an Elevate 215 project. This online application system allows students and families to browse and apply to 80 different charter schools in the city, and over the years, has become the main method for applying to Philadelphia charter schools. Finally, Elevate 215 also hosts the annual Philly High School Fair, which will be back in person this year at the PA Convention Center from October 14 to 15.

These are only a few of the leading educators who have shared their experience and advice in the field, and have highlighted the resources that their schools, institutions, and organizations provide. Our Education Power Players ultimately set an example for educators in the state and across the nation.