Mayor-Elect Cherelle Parker shares her vision for education in Philadelphia at Dinner with a Decision Maker event

Mayor-Elect Cherelle Parker shared lessons in leadership and how she sees education within her vision for a “safe, clean, green Philadelphia with economic opportunity for all” as the featured speaker at the November 15 Dinner with a Decision Maker event at the Franklin Institute.

An important component of the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders’ Neubauer Fellowship in Educational Leadership, the Dinners with Decision Makers series provides opportunities to learn from various industry leaders who speak from their experiences of leading during real-life situations and challenges, bringing to life PASL’s Leadership Levers—specific competencies that correlate with success.

Throughout the fireside chat-style event, facilitated by David Lon, Principal of Jules E. Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical School and 2022 Neubauer Fellow, and Charlotte Gillum, Principal of Lewis Elkin Elementary School and 2020 Neubauer Fellow, Parker reiterated her vision, sharing the influences and lessons learned that inspired her and highlighting how she anticipates bringing people from all backgrounds, political affiliations, and communities into the work.

Sharing her story of self, Parker spoke to being raised by her grandparents, who inspired her and bolstered her confidence. “By the time I think I learned that, according to statistics, we were actually poor, what I knew was that there was always enough,” said Parker. “It impacted my self-confidence. … But my grandmother knew how to get to my competitive drive and make me recognize my value.”

Parker spoke to the many members of her “village,” from Black women writers whose stories reflected Parker’s own life, to those who mentored and invested in her, helping her “identify a skill set, a power, and a passion, the ability to consume large swaths of information associated with complex issues and then bring people with different backgrounds and opinions to solve those challenges.

“The mentorship that comes from people investing time and energy into you—people put me in rooms and at tables that gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal,” continued Parker.

Parker identified her concern that all Philadelphia children have “access to a 21st-century, modern, quality education,” with an end goal of “children being in a position where they can rewrite things, be computing and critically analyze things at a level that will allow them to compete in a highly competitive, 21st-century global economy.”

The key to realizing Philadelphia as a city with “economic opportunity for all,” said Parker, is education, and identifying the skill sets required for someone to be self-sustained. Parker believes there is opportunity to do just that by aligning education with the businesses and careers that are growing in Philadelphia.

“Every industry that’s growing and thriving in the city of Philadelphia, we should be prepping and training students—and not just traditional students, adult learners, too—to get prepared and skilled up for those opportunities,” said Parker. Specifically highlighting the life sciences and biotechnology sector, Parker also spoke to how that approach boosts opportunity for underserved populations. “What we haven’t done is married the training opportunities with the communities that need it the most, so that, in an industry that some people would never be able to see themselves in, they will now know that that’s a potential path for them and that that they can belong there.”

Parker is focused on addressing challenges head on, achieving her vision through collaboration and innovative thinking.

“Leaders have goals, big visions about what the end looks like,” said Parker. “You see victory, and then you walk back all the elements that you need to get there—the people, resources, buildings, until you figure out how to bring those stakeholders to the table. If you go in thinking the same way, doing the same things—’This is how we sharpen our skills, and we keep sharpening this way because this is how it’s been done for 50 years’—I don’t function that way.

“We need to be very realistic about our challenges,” continued Parker, who then spoke about the importance of collaboration in order to, as she calls it, “Get to Yes.”

“Getting to yes means bringing people together who are what people refer to as ‘unlikely allies,’” said Parker. “We bring all parties together, we don’t point fingers, and we figure out how to do what has to get done. That’s the spirit that we need to move Philadelphia forward, and that’s what I intend to do as mayor of the city. There is enough and we need everybody: One Philly, a united city.”

Parker also identified the importance of having people who are impacted by the challenge as part of the collaborative group addressing the challenge.

I get very unnerved when people engage in what I call ‘I know what’s best for you people’ policy making, when people who don’t live the life of the people in the community who are being most impacted make decisions without engaging those who are on the ground,” said Parker. “No one should be coming up with the prescription for how to address the opioid crisis, public safety, or any of the challenges that are facing the Kensington community in particular without the leadership of that community being at the forefront of that decision-making.”

Parker’s “holistic, comprehensive approach” to the challenges the Kensington community is facing, incorporating “long-term care, treatment, and housing,” resonated with many Fellows, who shared stories of students as young as elementary school bringing weapons to school—not with intent to do harm, but for protection on their commute to school. Parker also highlighted Conwell Middle Magnet School, led by Principal Erica Green, 2022 Neubauer Fellow, and its falling enrollment numbers. “Conwell is quality instruction, a sense of pride and dignity,” said Parker. “Enrollment has steadily decreased there; that’s unacceptable.”

Parker sees so many of the challenges facing Philadelphia as enmeshed, impacting so many aspects of life, that she believes the solutions need to be multifaceted.

“Everything that we do, it has to be an integrated approach,” said Parker, who applies this thinking not only to the challenges highlighted in Kensington, but to everything, from redefining the policies of the Philadelphia Police Department to enforcing transparency in city business operations. “It makes things much more complex, but that is the only way that my mind functions.”

For Parker, a key part of being comprehensive and collaborative is upholding diversity, equity, and inclusion principles—which, she says, requires “cultural competency, emotional intelligence, and being very intentional and not hiding.”

“When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, be intentional about affirming that attracting and retaining the best and the brightest is number one,” said Parker. “But we have to be intentional about putting people in place who recognize that the best and the brightest include Black people. It includes brown people. People can be born on third base and hit the ball, and they act like they hit a home run. Some people are born behind the base, and they’ve got to find a way to make it. And they can’t use race, class, or any of those distinguishing factors as an excuse not to succeed.

“Sometimes people offer prescriptions that constantly keep folks dependent on systems and/or structures,” said Parker. “But with education as a tool that puts you on a path to self-sufficiency, you can do anything.”

See more photo highlights from the event here.