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Who’s Next: 16 young teachers and leaders shaping education in Philly

There are few issues in Philadelphia that captivate the attention of the city in the same way that education does. It’s been identified as the issue of the upcoming mayoral election, it’s the talk of political candidates across the city and it’s the catalyst for dozens of activism groups in Philly. In no small part, according to surveys from places like Pew backed up by the U.S. Census, it’s the key to the city keeping people from moving out to the growing suburbs.

There are hundreds of teachers and education leaders making a difference every day in the lives of this city’s children. Billy Penn, with the help of The Philadelphia Public School Notebookhas selected 16 young people who are working every day to improve how this city educates kids.

Take Kayla Conklin, a high school teacher in North Philly whose students were sending her drafts of their papers while off school on a recent snow day. There’s Leslie Grace, an art teacher who’s raised nearly $10,000 so a school in South Philly can have an art program for the first time in 15 years. And there are figures like Shanee Garner-Nelson, a political advocate whose work led to the elimination of more than 100 charter school entry barriers.

If you’re new to this feature, in the past we’ve listed young startup leadersyoung people who are changing politicscommunity leaders making their neighborhoods better and the next big chefs and restauranteurs.

We’ve got ideas about what areas to spotlight after this, but we’d love your feedback too — please email contact@billypenn.com with “Who’s Next” with other nominations you’d like us to consider.

But without further ado, here’s our list of Who’s Next: Education Leaders.

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1. Saeda Clark-Washington

Age: 24

Job: National Coordinator / Citywide and Mastbaum Chapter Organizer at Youth United for Change

Who’s Next Because: Clark-Washington is a well-known advocate for public education in Philadelphia, and has been organizing young people to take action since attending Kensington Business High School. After graduating, Clark-Washington attended Penn State Schuylkill Haven for three years, but left during junior year to become a full-time organizer at Youth United for Change, a youth-led organization made up of youth of color and working class communities that aims to hold officials accountable to meeting the educational needs of Philadelphia public school students. Clark-Washington has been organizing with YUC since 2005, became a part-time staff member in 2010 and a full-time organizer in 2013.

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2. Kayla Conklin

Age: 29

Job: 9th grade English teacher at Esperanza Academy Charter High School

Who’s Next Because: While others bide time in city schools until they can transition to the suburbs, Conklin’s dream has always been to teach underprivileged students. She’s currently a ninth grade English teacher at the Esperanza Academy Charter High School in North Philly, and she spends her free time advising the student newspaper, mentoring young women and serving as the sophomore class advisor. Conklin also works with other freshman-year teachers to create initiatives that help students navigate through their freshman year. According to the person who nominated her, Conklin “captivates her students and creates a bond with each of them that transcends her classroom. On a recent snow day, Kayla’s students were not out sledding or watching tv; they were emailing her rough drafts for a paper not yet due — and she was at home waiting to respond.”

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3. Christina Dzielinski-Yancer

Age: 39

Job: Certified School Nurse at Jules E. Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical School

Who’s Next Because: While Dzielinski serves as the school nurse at a vocational school in Kensington, this Philadelphia native is part of the school’s leadership team and works to organize major events like freshman orientation, parent orientation and middle school recruitment. She sponsors the Gay Straight Alliance, the Yearbook and the junior and senior classes. In addition, Dzielinski serves as the PFT building representative, and mentors a number of students throughout the building. Her colleagues say she goes above and beyond her role as a nurse.

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4. Stephen Flemming

Age: 33

Job: 3rd grade teacher at John B. Kelly Elementary School

Who’s Next Because: This third grade teacher serves at an elementary school in Germantown, and is an outspoken defender of public education. Flemming, who you might know from his vibrant Twitter feed, was born and raised in West and Southwest Philadelphia and is a product of the Philadelphia public school system. He attended Temple as an undergraduate and earned his masters degree at Cabrini College. Colleagues say this teacher, who grew up on the streets of Philadelphia, finds ways to connect with his young students and has an unparalleled passion for teaching. Find him on Twitter at @kellygrade6.

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5. Kristen Forbriger

Age: 31

Job: Public Affairs Director at Philadelphia School Partnership

Who’s Next Because: Forbriger is the public affairs director at the Philadelphia School Partnership, an education reform organization that invests in creating and expanding quality schools of all types. She is responsible for PSP’s communications strategy, including marketing, media relations, and partnership development. In addition, she oversees community and family engagement through the GreatPhillySchools initiative. She is also the board treasurer of PhillyCORE Leaders, a coalition of rising education leaders. Find her on Twitter at @kforbriger.

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6. Shanee Garner-Nelson

Age: 29

Job: Public Citizens for Children and Youth’s Education Policy Director

Who’s Next Because: Garner is responsible for building public support to improve education for the region’s students. Her work has led to the School District of Philadelphia’s elimination of over 100 barriers to entry in charter schools, the passage of the 1 percent sales tax extension and the $2-per-pack cigarette tax to increase funding for Philly students. Through her advocacy, Garner has mobilized hundreds of citizens throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and authored reports on charter accountability, funding inequality and academic disparities. Garner was also a teacher in two neighborhood high schools and led a campaign to secure a new school building for children in Kensington while working as a community organizer. She serves on the Philadelphia Education Fund’s Scholars Advisory Committee and mentors first generation college students.

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7. Leslie Grace

Age: 33

Job: Art teacher at George Nebinger School in South Philadelphia

Who’s Next Because: Over the last year alone, Grace has raised more than $9,000 via DonorsChoose.org and other fundraising to fund her new art education program at George Nebinger School in South Philadelphia, which hasn’t had an art teacher for 15 years. In addition to her role in the classroom, she’s also been working with the Moore College of Art and Design to build up an Art Teacher Network. The group was started to help support Philadelphia art teachers through monthly meetings where they share lesson plans, student art work and general classroom management strategies. Check out some of her students’ art work here. 

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8. Rachel Hodas

Age: 27

Job: Doctoral student at Temple University’s School Psychology program

Who’s Next Because: Hodas will soon be a newly-minted PhD in School Psychology this spring, but she has already begun to show she’s a leader in her field. She co-chairs the Positive Psychology interest group for the National Association of School Psychologists, works one-on-one with college students on the Autism spectrum and serves as a board member of PhilaSoup, an education non-profit that supports innovative teacher projects through micro-grants. She has also worked as a consultant helping schools adopt evidence-based prevention programs that focus on increasing academic and behavioral success. Find her on Twitter at @RachelHodas.

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9. Ami Patel Hopkins

Age: 32

Job: Vice President of Teaching, Learning and Innovation at the Education Fund

Who’s Next Because: Hopkins is spearheading the Ed Fund’s efforts to ensure excellent teachers in every classroom by working to enhance the preparation, support and networking of teachers across the city. Previously, she served as Deputy Education Officer to Mayor Michael Nutter in the Mayor’s Office of Education, where she had worked since 2008. She has worked on education reform issues at the national level through the Alliance for Excellent Education, served as an AmeriCorps member in Maryland, has done college access work in Baltimore high schools and taught first grade in inner-city Miami. Hopkins currently serves on the boards of Research for Action as the Chair of the Board Development Committee and is on the Executive Committee of PhillyCORE Leaders. Find her on Twitter at @apatelphilly.

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10. Hillary Linardopoulos

Age: 33

Job: Political leader at Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Who’s Next Because: Linardopoulos’ advocacy work led her into her current role on staff at the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers where she does much of the political work. Her colleagues say she’s revitalized the union’s political presence by working with members and politicians alike to make connections between Philadelphia’s classrooms, City Hall and Harrisburg. She taught for nine years at Julia de Burgos Elementary School in West Kensington and is also a frequent education blogger for the Huffington Post. Find her on Twitter at @MrsL132.

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11. Danielle Mancinelli

Age: 26

Job: Early Literacy Specialist with the Children’s Literacy Initiative

Who’s Next Because: Mancinelli has done great work improving literacy among students in Kindergarten through third grade in Philadelphia through her work with the Children’s Literacy Initiative. She is on the executive board of Teachers Lead Philly, a network of teachers leading educational change in Philadelphia. She was also a 2014 fellow on the New Leaders Council, a nonprofit that works to recruit and train progressive political entrepreneurs, and is still active with the organization as part of the Selection Committee and the NE Conference Programming Committee. Find her on Twitter at @daniellemancine.

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12. Larissa Pahomov

Age: 31

Job: English teacher at Science Leadership Academy

Who’s Next Because: In addition to teaching at SLA, Pahomov is also the co-chair of the Caucus of Working Educators, a rank-and-file caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. In that role, Pahomov helps plan campaigns and manage communications. She’s also a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of “Authentic Learning in the Digital Age,” a handbook for teachers that describes the SLA model and how to implement it on a classroom or school-wide level. Find her on Twitter at @Lpahomov.

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13. Megan Rosenbach

Age: 28

Job: Education Director at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Who’s Next Because: Rosenbach is a former teacher and the founder and leader of Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary, a response team to help meet the needs of G. W. Childs Elementary School in Point Breeze. She is also a lead organizer with South Philly School Coalition and works on other projects with Public Citizens for Children and Youth, which combines research and advocacy to mobilize organizations and citizens across the region for the betterment of the lives of children. Watch a video here of Rosenbach talking about her efforts during Ignite Philly. Find her on Twitter at @MegiRose.

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14. Dan Symonds

Age: 27

Job: Teacher at Munoz-Marin School in North Philadelphia

Who’s Next Because: Though he’s in his first year teaching in North Philadelphia, Symonds has already made waves as a defender of public education. He’s addressed education students at St. Joseph’s University, testified before the School Reform Commission about school funding and colleagues say his combination of humility and inspiration is effective in working with students. He’s the building representative for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and in November garnered attention for his work with the Caucus of Working Educators. Find him on Twitter at @Dan_Symonds.

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15. Julian Thompson

Age: 29

Job: Program Manager, Charter Schools Office, School District of Philadelphia

Who’s Next Because: Julian manages the Authorizing Quality Initiative, the district’s effort to improve academic, fiscal and organizational oversight of the city’s 85 charter schools. Prior to joining the district, Julian managed City Year Corps Members serving in traditional and charter schools and worked on education policy projects with City Council and the Philadelphia Education Fund. Julian is also membership chair of PhillyCORE Leaders and attorney coach of the championship-winning Central High School mock trial team.

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16. Erin Trent

Age: 33

Job: Director of Cultural Context for Mastery Charter Schools

Who’s Next Because: Due to Trent’s leadership, Mastery has taken on the challenge of addressing the issues of systemic racial injustice within and around schools in Philadelphia and Camden. She designs and facilitates training for school leaders and teachers to prepare them to address racial disparities and cultural divides between schools, families, and communities. Prior to leading Cultural Context, Trent led Community Engagement and Political Advocacy at Mastery for three years. She is also co-Founder of uGO: A Community Wellness Venture, a community health and fitness initiative focused on empowering families to make healthy choices and take action within their communities.