Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program
2013-2014 Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program
While the Principal Ambassador Fellowship application process gets underway, the Department of Education has brought on a temporary Resident Principal to advise the Department from an experienced school administrator’s perspective on relevant policies and programs, such as the new Principal Ambassador Fellowship program.
2013-2014 Resident Principal
Josh is an experienced educational leader with a track record of success. He is entering his third and final year as a member of the second cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s doctoral program in Leadership (Ed.L.D). Josh has spent a career in public schools. Just prior to Harvard, he was the founder of DREAM Charter School and served as the school’s first principal and Executive Director. DREAM is an inclusive, progressive, community-based public school in East Harlem, NYC that is currently serving 300 students in grades K-5.
From 2002 - 2007Josh was the principal of PS 183, one of the 200 best schools in New York City as designated by the Chancellor. Prior to becoming a principal, he served as an Assistant Principal and classroom teacher in New York City Department of Education schools for over 10 years in such diverse neighborhoods as Chinatown, the South Bronx, and Manhattan’s Upper Eastside. Josh started his career as an educator as part of Teach for America, having been a 1991 corps member working for two years as a Kindergarten teacher at the J.S. Aucoin Elementary School in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. He has a Masters Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Teachers College and another in Administration and Supervision from New York University.
2013-2014 Campus Principal Ambassador Fellows
Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow
Bio/Overview: For the past six years, El-Mekki has been the proud principal at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. After attending an elementary Freedom School as a child, middle school in Iran, and Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, El-Mekki attended IUP as a Criminal Justice Major. After a brief stint as a social worker and counselor at the Youth Study Center, he became eager to make a community-focused impact. As the son of an educator and activists, El-Mekki had a strong desire to dive into a cause that would address issues relating to social justice, equity and educational opportunities. Through a friend, he learned of an opportunity to become a teacher through an alternative certification program for African American men. After teaching for 7 years, he became an administrator at Turner and Shaw Middle Schools- both located in southwest Philadelphia - before becoming a principal in 2007.
Educational Values/Philosophy: El-Mekki’s career has been based on the idea that all children should at least be afforded the educational experiences that they would desire for their own children. He believes 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 believes that it takes educated youth to make a positive impact on society, and schools should be direct and trustworthy partners for their surrounding communities. 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. As a proponent of the Excellence, No Excuses mindset, El-Mekki believes that school-based teams must continue to leverage their strengths on behalf of students in order to ensure the promise delivered to families (success of their children) is fulfilled.
Achievements: El-Mekki’s team at the Shoemaker Campus have been recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey for having created a school that partners with communities to turnaround failing schools. New Leaders has awarded the Shoemaker Campus with the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. Shoemaker Campus was also recently recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African American students. El-Mekki was a finalist for the prestigious Ryan Jack award, which recognizes principals who exemplify Transformational Leadership and supports their teams in developing Academic Accelerators through Systems and Structures that Matter Most and High-Impact Teaching. Currently, El-Mekki serves on Mayor Michael Nutter’s Mayor’s Commission on African American Males and is a Fellow with America Achieves, a non-profit organization that helps communities, states, and practitioners leverage policy, practice, and leadership to build high-quality educational systems and prepare each young person for success in careers, college, and citizenship. El-Mekki is also a founding board member and secretary of the David P. Richardson, Jr. Institute for Leadership and Civic Participation.
Education: El-Mekki holds a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and gained his Master’s degree and Principal Certification from Cheyney University.
Areas of Interest/Expertise:
- Accessibility To Higher Education
- Developing Community Based Schools
- Family And Community Engagement
- Professionalizing Careers In Education
Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow
Bio/Overview: Jill Levine is currently the principal at Normal Park Museum Magnet, a Pre-K through 8th grade school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has led the transformation of two low performing schools into innovative, exciting and challenging places of learning. These schools have become national models and are visited annually by school leaders from throughout the nation. Prior to becoming a principal, Levine taught 3rd grade in the New Orleans Public Schools for five years through Teach for America. She also taught 1st grade in Chattanooga and served as an assistant principal prior to becoming a principal.
Educational Values/Philosophy: Levine believes that learning should not be bound to the four walls of the classroom, nor to the front and back cover of a textbook. She believes that when learning is engaging and meaningful, students learn more and remember more. Levine has led the creation of Normal Park Museum Magnet with this idea in mind. Levine also believes that consistency of instructional program is one key to successful school transformation. When every teacher in a school is committed to the same philosophy and the same instructional approaches, every student has access to the same high quality program. At Normal Park, the faculty has developed “The Normal Park Way,” a list of best practices (examples include guided reading, writers workshop, planning using Understanding by Design, exhibit building, and math model drawing) that frame the school’s instructional approach as well as the topics for faculty professional development. The result of this consistent approach is high student achievement. Levine believes that the second key to a successful school is having an outstanding faculty. With this in mind, Levine believes that the most important part of her job is hiring talented and dedicated teachers and providing the right support. Thus the team has developed Normal Park University, a teacher-driven professional development program. Finally, the third key to a successful school, Levine believes is developing and maintaining a high level of parent and community involvement. At Normal Park, the parents and community are involved in almost every aspect of the school, including carrying out “extreme makeovers” of both campuses, producing an annual arts and music festival, and tutoring students.
Achievements: In 2005, Normal Park was awarded the Ronald P. Simpson Award, Magnet Schools of America’s highest honor. Normal Park has also been named a J.F. Kennedy School of Distinction and has been featured in numerous books and articles including by the U.S. Department of Education in two publications and on the Doing What Works website. In the spring of 2012, Normal Park was given a 1st place award by the Educational Consumers Foundation for having the highest value added test scores in Tennessee. The school has been named a Magnet School of Excellence every year since 2005 and in 2012, Levine was named National Principal of the Year by Magnet Schools of America. Levine was appointed to Tennessee’s First to the Top Advisory Committee by the TN Commissioner of Education and to the Tennessee Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee by the Governor.
Education: Levine holds a Bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, and a Master’s Degree from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Areas of Interest/Expertise:
- School Leadership
- Transformation of Schools
- K-8 Literacy
- Museum Schools
- Innovation and Creativity in Schools
- Teacher Evaluation Reform
- Professional Development
- Parental and Community Engagement
Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow
Bio/Overview: Rachel Skerritt is currently serving in her third year as principal of Eastern Senior High School, which re-launched in 2011 under the federal turnaround model. Prior to her transition to Washington, DC, Skerritt was Chief of Staff for the Boston Public Schools, serving as the primary point person for the Superintendent and liaison to the School Committee, and co-authoring and overseeing the district’s strategic plan, the Acceleration Agenda. Before working in central office, Skerritt held the position of Headmaster at Another Course to College, a Boston public pilot high school, after completing the Boston Principal Fellowship Program at the School Leadership Institute. Her career in education began at her alma mater, Boston Latin School, where she taught English Literature for seven years.
Educational Values/Philosophy: After reading Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities as a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, Skerritt realized that most young people with backgrounds similar to her own are not fortunate enough to attend public schools that provided the high quality instruction that she experienced in elementary, middle, and high school. It was deeply troubling to her that children living in America’s inner cities could be denied chances for success due to poor preparation for college, career, and life. It was then that her commitment to improving the conditions of urban education was forged. Her philosophy is that all students should be provided with open access to a challenging curriculum and a school culture of extremely high expectations coupled with high levels of support. She believes that exposure to the larger world is often the eye-opener for students in impoverished communities, and she has prioritized extra-curricular learning experiences for her students, including experiences that send scholars to other states, countries, and continents. She focuses a great amount of her time as a school leader on selecting and developing the faculty and staff on her team, as she cites a strong adult community as the primary ingredient to turning around an underperforming school. She defines the most important work in schools as the magic that can take place when a talented teacher captures the minds of learners. Her daily practice involves modeling the standard that she expects from her team: working long hours to reach ambitious goals, loving children and prioritizing their needs above all, reflecting on tough feedback, and being responsive to staff, families, students, and community partners.
Achievements: Under Skerritt’s leadership, Eastern Senior High School has earned authorization as an International Baccalaureate school and scored the second highest proficiency rates amongst comprehensive high schools in the District of Columbia on last spring’s DC-CAS exams. Skerritt was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar in 1998 for her commitment to public service and was selected as a national finalist for the White House Fellows Program in 2009 and 2010. Skerritt has also published three novels and has contributed articles to The Root, a subsidiary of the Washington Post.
Education: Skerritt holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and Master’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s Degree in Education Administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Areas of Interest/Expertise:
- Teacher Recruitment And Retention
- Urban School Leadership
- College Preparedness
- Turnaround Schools