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Meet five new District teachers

New teachers at orientation.
Dale Mezzacappa

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Nicole Dranoff, 23, who just graduated from Temple, will be teaching Spanish at Jay Cooke Elementary.

Dranoff grew up in Warminster and went to Central Bucks High School, which she readily admitted is “very different” from Cooke.

“I went to school [college] in Philadelphia and I learned a bit about how it needs a lot of help from passionate young teachers who are going to stay,” Dranoff said. She said she was making a commitment to do that.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. I would teach my dolls math,” she said. “When I learned Spanish, I loved the culture. I lived in Spain for a year. Maybe at the end, one student will end up loving Spanish. I’m concerned for the students. They have hard lives. I hope to help with that. I am looking forward to seeing what being a teacher is really about.”


Sarah Heckman, 23, also a Temple grad, will teach algebra and geometry at Academy at Palumbo. She grew up in a suburb of Allentown, Pennsylvania.“I always wanted to be a high school math teacher,” she said. “I know from my experience that teachers make the difference in math. In middle school, I hated math, but my high school math teacher made me realize that math can be understood.”

She student-taught at Carver High School of Engineering & Science near the Temple campus. “The students were open and willing for me to be there,” she said. “Palumbo is a similar school.”

Overall, she said, “I like being a positive influence in students’ lives, someone they can come to.”


Asha Francisco, 25, grew up in Hawaii and graduated from Oregon State University. She will teach Spanish at Science Leadership Academy.

“I wanted to live in an East Coast city,” she said. “A close friend told me about a position at my school.” She said both of them were living in Madrid, and he had worked for Teach for America in Philadelphia. So she applied here.

Francisco taught for two years in independent schools in Hawaii, where, she said, “I lived on a mountain. I went to a big high school, but it had a big campus. I’m not used to seeing a school all in one building. They usually go out rather than up.”

Now she lives in Northern Liberties, and she is loving Philly. “It’s different. It’s diverse. There are lots of things to do. I went to a concert at the Mann, the Harry Potter movie with the live orchestra. It was awesome. I went to an art exhibit, a Phillies game, and it’s only been a month.”


Tim Hearn, 55, taught for 20 years in New York City before attending divinity school in Philadelphia and then deciding that he wanted to go back to teaching science. He will be at Kensington CAPA High School.

Hearn said that during his career in New York, both in public and parochial schools, he taught mostly African American and Latino students. “I had three Euro-American students in 20 years,” he said.

After he attained his divinity degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mount Airy, entering the ministry didn’t work out as he had planned. “Lest you are thinking this is a consolation prize, nothing could be farther from the truth,” he said. “This is my new family. I’m passionate about what I do. I tend to be 100 percent in when I do something, and I feel that will happen to me now.”

Because he has been away from teaching for so long – seven years – he said, “I’m really wondering what kind of a teacher I’m going to be now. Somehow, I think I’m going to be better than ever.”


Rachel Kohan-Garvey taught for 10 years in city charter schools. Next month, she will teach African American history at the Academy at Palumbo. She is a product of the District, having attended Pollock Elementary, Meehan Middle School, and Girls’ High.

“I was actually involved in the Philadelphia Student Union when I was in high school,” she said. “It was during the time the state was taking over the District. I was involved in some civil disobedience.” A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, she joined Teach for America. Her intent was to teach in the District, but she wound up working in charters – first, Maria Bracetti, then one of the KIPP schools.

“I realized I couldn’t grow any more. I believe wholeheartedly in public education. It made more sense for me to come home to the School District of Philadelphia.”

Click here to read about a new session on race and teaching offered at this District’s new teacher orientation.

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