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Who’s Next Education: 15 school leaders making a difference in Philly

Some of the biggest debates in Philadelphia surround how the city can improve the education climate for students. Maybe the answer is universal pre-Kindergarten. Maybe it’s schools that function more like community centers. Perhaps it’s better opportunities for students to expand their education to college.

What’s already making a difference though in the lives of children across the city are teachers, nonprofit staff members and education leaders — many of whom are under 40 and represent the next generation of school leaders in Philadelphia.

Welcome to this month’s edition of Who’s Next, a feature we at Billy Penn use to highlight some of the most dynamic young leaders in Philadelphia. These winners were nominated by their peers as people who are making a positive impact at work and in their communities.

In the last year, Billy Penn has highlighted more than 200 of the city’s up-and-coming leaders through the Who’s Next feature presented by the Knight Foundation, from lawyers to artists to musicians to chefs. Now, meet these young people who are working every day to improve education in the Philadelphia area, in alphabetical order:

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1. Timothy M. Boyle

Title: Founding Principal at Science Leadership Academy Middle School

Age: 31

Who’s Next Because: Timothy Boyle is the Founding Principal of Science Leadership Academy Middle School. He’s taught in a variety of elementary and middle school settings over the last 10 years and currently, Boyle is a Teaching Consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project, a teacher network created to explore literacy, writing, teaching, and learning in classrooms. He also co-founded Teachers Lead Philly, a group promoting teacher leadership across the city. The person who nominated Boyle had this to say: “In a polarized and challenging environment, Tim brings a refreshing optimism and open mind. Launching a new school within the District (especially right now) is a huge challenge.” Find him on Twitter at @TimothyMBoyle.

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2. Vincent Cobb II

Title: Co-founder of Black Male Educators Convening

Age: 29

Who’s Next Because: A Syracuse native, Vincent Cobb II moved to Philadelphia by way of Washington D.C. where he was an Education Pioneer Fellow with the Maya Angelou Public Charter School. Today, he’s the Regional Manager for Community and School Partnerships for Mastery Charter Schools where he works with four campuses in Philadelphia to build groups like Parent Teacher Associations and School Advisory Councils and works to engage community nonprofits. Cobb also co-founded Philadelphia Black Male Educators Convening, a nonprofit network of more than 500 educators across the city who participate in regular events. Prior to joining Mastery Charter Schools in January 2015, Cobb worked for Teach for America. The person who nominated Cobb said this about him: “By organizing these ‘convenings’ and other events, Cobb has energized hundreds of local teachers and school leaders.” Find him on Twitter at @Vinny2nd_Philly.

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3. Michael Dziura

Title: Head of Academic Supports at Freire Charter School

Age: 30

Who’s Next Because: Michael Dziura is an educational administrator who says he’s dedicated to social justice through providing students in Philadelphia with high-quality educational opportunities. Since joining Freire Charter School in 2009, Dziura has led classrooms and is certified in subjects including English, social studies, math and science. After six years in the classroom, he took on the role of Head of Academic Supports, a position in which he’s primarily charged with maintaining student and school safety and culture through leading the dean’s office, a mediation program and an emotional support team. He most recently led Freire’s annual “Take Back the City” event where students, teachers and community members came together over the course of the school year, culminating in a two-day event, to discuss moral complexities, address conflict resolution skills and promote community throughout the school and city. The person who nominated Dziura said: “His patience, drive and confidence are what make Mike such a fantastic educator.”

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4. Linda Fernandez

Title: Picasso Project Director at Public Citizens for Children and Youth

Age: 32

Who’s Next Because: With a background in art education advocacy, Linda Fernandez serves as the Director of the Picasso Project at the Philadelphia-based Public Citizens for Children and Youth in which she gives grants to under-resourced schools in the city. These grants support teacher-driven arts projects and advocate for increased funding to restore and promote the arts as an essential component of public education. Previously, Fernandez worked as the Manager of Youth Programs at Fleisher Art Memorial, providing free visual art programming to more than 2,000 students each year. She’s also a teaching artist and founding member of Amber Art and Design, an artist collective that engages people of all ages in creative forms of expression and artmaking. Find her on Twitter at @PCCYarts.

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5. Chris Fornaro

Title: Chair of the STEAM Department and MakerSpace Director at The Shipley School

Age: 31

Who’s Next Because: Chris Fornaro currently serves as the Chair of the STEAM Department and is the MakerSpace Director at The Shipley School, a private, co-ed day school for pre-K through 12th grade students. In his capacity at Shipley, he’s designed and managed the creation of the “MakerSpace” and has expanded course offerings by developing an engineering course and a design fabrication course. He also started a “MakerShip” program to guide students on ways they can utilize the MakerSpace. Fornaro says he draws on his time as a Process Engineer at Johnson Matthey while designing lessons for his courses. For the past five summers, Fornaro has also taught and been a dormitory head at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts where he’s educated students from around the world. Find him on Twitter at @Mr_Fornaro.

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6. Michael R. Galvan

Title: Policy Director in the Mayor’s Office of Education

Age: 25

Who’s Next Because: Michael R. Galvan is the Policy Director for the Mayor’s Office of Education under Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney where he’s working to develop plans to ensure Philadelphia’s youth have access to resources and supports through quality pre-K and community schools. He also works with the Department of Commerce, the Deputy Mayor for Labor and the School District of Philadelphia to develop a meaningful career pipeline for young adults. In spring 2015, Galvan began working in Philadelphia politics as a community organizer in South Philadelphia on Kenney’s campaign team. After a successful primary election in May 2015, Galvan served as the campaign’s Deputy Policy Director, where he focused on education policy. Prior to his role in the Mayor’s Office, Galvan worked as an educator and guest lecturer for high school and collegiate courses focusing on American government, foreign policy, constitutional law and education policy at institutions across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Find him on Twitter at @MGalvanPHL.

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7. Tika Jones

Title: College Possible Philadelphia High School Coach

Age: 23

Who’s Next Because: Tika Jones is a coach at Philadelphia College Possible, a nonprofit that offers college admission coaching and support to low-income students. A former participant in the program, Jones joined College Possible last year and works with juniors at Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical High School. She’s already helped her students increase their SAT scores by 12 percent over the first three practice exams and one of her students who she helped with organizational skills and study habits is now in the top five of his class and has a broad range of interests ranging from robotics to business and psychology. In April, Jones was awarded the City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Award for Distinguished AmeriCorps Service.

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8. Ben Koch

Title: Founding Spanish Leader at Building 21 High School

Age: 24

Who’s Next Because: Ben Koch, a high school Spanish teacher, works at Building 21 High School, a new, non-selective district high school in North Philadelphia. As a Founding Spanish Leader, Koch is partnering with Gooru, an online platform for curriculum development. He was chosen as a Gooru Innovations Fellow along with a select group of 40 educators from across the country and his Spanish One course will be published on their platform for educators nationwide to adopt. Koch’s first year at Building 21 will culminate in a cultural immersion and service learning trip with a group of 10 students to Costa Rica through the Global Classroom Project. Koch began his career at Simon Gratz Mastery Charter High School near Hunting Park through Teach for America where he founded both a boys lacrosse program and an after-school tennis and health education program.

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9. Rachel Loeper

Title: Education Director at Mighty Writers

Age: 34

Who’s Next Because: Rachel Loeper is the education director at Mighty Writers — a Philadelphia nonprofit that offers free workshops and classes to students to improve literacy — and has taught ESL, remedial reading and creative writing to children and adults. She was the founding program director at Mighty Writers South in 2009 and has remained with the organization ever since. During her tenure, Mighty Writers has produced six years of award-winning free writing programs for Philadelphia youth and has been recognized for outstanding programs by the Knight Foundation, Citizens Bank, Phillies Charities, the Philadelphia 76ers and President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Network honored her an Afterschool Champion. She served as an Afterschool Matters Fellow with the National Institute on Out-of-School-Time from 2010 to 2012.

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10. Kathleen Melville

Title: Advisor and English Teacher at the Workshop School, Communications Coordinator at Teachers Lead Philly

Age: 33

Who’s Next Because: Kathleen Melville teaches at the Workshop School, a small, project-based high school in West Philadelphia. In 2012, she co-founded Teachers Lead Philly, an organization that builds connections and leadership among Philadelphia teachers. She studied education at Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and she blogs for Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Education Week, a nonprofit source of education news. She’s also a member of the Caucus of Working Educators, a caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and the Philadelphia Writing Project. Find her on Twitter at @PhillyMelville.

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11. Amy Ruck Kagan

Title: Executive Director at Philadelphia Charters for Excellence

Age: 35

Who’s Next Because: Amy Ruck Kagan is the founding Executive Director for Philadelphia Charters for Excellence, an alliance of high performing public charter schools. She brings 15 years of public education experience and has been in the charter sector for the last eight years. Most recently, Ruck Kagan was the Deputy Commissioner of Innovation for the state of New Jersey where she oversaw all things school choice for the Department of Education. Prior to her Deputy role, she served for two and a half years as the Director of the Office of Charter Schools for the NJ Department of Education. Before New Jersey, Ruck Kagan worked in New York City and Washington D.C. developing charter schools for a non-profit organization. She started her career as a teacher and the person who nominated Ruck Kagan said, “Amy is leading the charge for high-quality charter options for students in Philadelphia and advocating for legislative changes necessary for a healthy charter sector in the city.”

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12. Christina Santos

Title: Director of College Retention and Success at Philadelphia Futures

Age: 37

Who’s Next Because: A Philadelphia native, Christina Santos works at Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit organization that provides low-income, first-generation-to-college students with the tools, resources and opportunities necessary for admission to and success in college. In her role as Director of College Retention and Success for the past seven years, Santos has led the organization’s efforts to increase graduation rates for Philadelphia students, specializing in academic advising, financial aid, building strategic partnerships with colleges and universities and career development programming. When Santos became Director, Philadelphia Futures college graduation rate was 50 percent. The student cohorts who have graduated from college during her tenure have graduation rates between 60 and 77 percent. Prior to Philadelphia Futures, Santos worked at Peirce College as the counselor for Student Support Services. She has presented at national conferences about her work with first-generation, low-income students and has been interviewed by local and national media about how financial aid policies impact low-income students. Find her on Twitter at @cms519.

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13. Oscar Wang

Title: Founder and Executive Director at Mentor for Philly

Age: 24

Who’s Next Because: Oscar Wang is the founder and executive director of Mentor for Philly, which mentors disadvantaged first-generation students to and through college with a new type of college pathway based here in the city. In high school, MFP’s students immerse themselves on college campuses and are mentored by college students. Then, students are supported in college, primarily within a debt-free, high-support “community cohort” model at the Community College of Philadelphia, where every student receives academic, social, financial and career-building support. Before founding MFP, Wang was an editorial intern at the Philadelphia Public School Notebook in the spring of 2012 before becoming a 2012 Samuel S. Fels Fellow for the School Reform Commission. From 2013 to 2014, he founded and taught the Civics and Rhetoric Program at E.M. Stanton Elementary School in South Philly where he equipped students from fifth to eighth grade with critical writing, thinking and public speaking skills. The person who nominated Wang said, “Few people are as passionate about getting Philadephia’s public school students into college as Oscar. His program is hands-on and Oscar is in public schools helping students every day.” Find him on Twitter at @Oscar_Wang.

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14. Deva Watson

Title: Lead Art Teacher at Wissahickon Charter and Co- Founder of the “Fresh Artists Palates To Palettes” program

Age: 31

Who’s Next Because: Even though Deva Watson is an art teacher at Wissahickon Charter School in Germantown, her students call her “chef.” Watson co-created the “Fresh Artists Palates To Palettes” program in conjunction with the Philadelphia-based Fresh Artists, an art education nonprofit. Her classroom runs like a professional kitchen, full of creativity and buzzing work ethic from kids from kindergarten to 8th grade. The multifaceted curriculum of Fresh Artists Palates to Palettes exposes 7th grade students to fine art and fine cuisine while introducing them to a variety of career paths in the creative economy. As part of the program, students visit restaurants where they researched, met and interviewed the chef and discussed the design and branding of his or her restaurant. The students were served the chef’s signature dish for lunch, then sketched a tableau of the meal in preparation for their final artwork project. Back in the art classroom, the students worked on still life projects over a 16-week period. The Fresh Palates to Palettes project culminates with a gala reception, tour of the teaching kitchens and a sit-down luncheon for the chefs and project donors where the students’ artwork will be displayed. Find her on Twitter at @todienomore.

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15. Shira Woolf Cohen

Title: Principal at New Foundations Charter School

Age: 38

Who’s Next Because: Shira Woolf Cohen is the Principal at New Foundations Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia where she serves 1,400 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Her areas of focus within the school are service learning, college and career development, teacher observation and evaluation, curriculum and instruction, family engagement, interdisciplinary curriculum and out-of-school-time learning. She is a former teacher, after-school coordinator, Dean and Vice Principal at New Foundations Charter School and the founding camp director at Girard College. Woolf Cohen has served as an adjunct faculty member at Temple University, Johns Hopkins University and Drexel University, and serves as a volunteer board and committee member for Urbanstead, the Multicultural Youth Exchange and the Spruce Foundation. Woolf Cohen is the 2015 recipient of the G. Bernard Gill Urban Service-Learning Leadership Award, presented by the National Youth Leadership Council and UPS. The person who nominated Woolf Cohen said: “Her passion and commitment to service-learning as a method of holistic instruction engages students in a meaningful way and empowers them to be active citizens and life long learners.”

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