This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Jeseamy Muentes
Sharif El-Mekki, principal at Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus, has been selected as one of three Principal Ambassador Fellows in the U.S. Department of Education’s first-ever Principal Ambassador Fellowship program.
The program, modeled after the Education Department’s six-year old Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Program, will recognize the important impact that principals have on instructional leadership, staff performance, and the school environment. El-Mekki and the two other fellows were chosen in December from more than 450 applicants from district, charter, and private schools nationwide. One of the other fellows is from a magnet school in Tennessee, and the other is from a Washington, D.C., high school.
Through August 2014, the fellows will spend time gaining knowledge of the key federal programs and policies. But they will also lend the perspective of school principals to the work of the department and share their expertise and insight with federal staff members about education policies and their impact on individual schools. Additionally, the fellows will provide outreach and communication about federal initiatives to other educators on behalf of the department.
El-Mekki said that he is honored to have been chosen.
“When principals have these opportunities, it’s really accepted on behalf of the team they have,” said El-Mekki. “I’m accepting it for my team, the city and the Philadelphia region.”
El-Mekki started in education as a teacher, working for seven years in the classroom before moving to an administrative position. He became the principal at Mastery-Shoemaker in 2008. He places importance on community-based schools and how they are able to help students accomplish their work at the highest level.
“The role of educators is to ensure that their partnerships with families and community members are supportive of students in developing the academic and personal skills necessary to successfully serve and lead in their communities,” he said.
El-Mekki said that both Pennsylvania and Philadelphia should have a fair-funding formula. He advocates putting the best people in teaching positions and having results-based programs that make the most efficient use of data provided. Having seen real success at Mastery-Shoemaker, he hopes to share his knowledge with others in the program and the department.
“The first step is making sure everyone who is involved in education is putting the children first,” said El-Mekki. He said that there are times when politics becomes too involved in education.
Mastery-Shoemaker has received recognition from President Obama and Oprah Winfrey for its success in turning around a failing school into one of the top institutions in the state.
When asked what he feels he can offer the program, El-Mekki said, “I think I’ve had a well-rounded experience in my 20 or so years in education, and my profound experience has been based off of being in community schools.”
El-Mekki said that “a child’s zip code should not be the obstacle a child faces to receive a strong and robust education that paves the way for him/her to be successful in a forever-changing world.”
El-Mekki traveled to Washington in January for one of the Principal Ambassador meetings. He said that he expects that the program will elevate his knowledge about important education issues and that he looks forward to sharing all he learns with other educators in the Philadelphia region.
“It’s about making sure students accomplish at the highest level,” he said.