Experiencing school leadership in action in the nation’s capital

Continuing its mission to expand leadership development opportunities for the city’s principals, the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (School Leaders) and 24 Neubauer Fellows in Educational Leadership recently traveled to Washington DC to learn from expert leaders and exemplary schools. The Fellows, representing 3 charter schools, 17 district schools, and 4 parochial schools, explored school reform efforts in Washington and learned from successful approaches to addressing challenges similar to those at home.

Now in its second year, the Neubauer Fellowship was designed to develop and support effective principals who improve outcomes for Philadelphia’s children. For the Washington trip, five 2015-16 Fellows joined 19 current Fellows for visits to schools, the National Mall, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  They also visited with U.S. Marine Major (Ret.) Steve Robbins, who now serves as Program Director for the Customs and Border Protection Agency’s Leadership Institute, and Billy Kearney, who has served as a turnaround principal and Deputy Chief of Innovation for DC Public Schools.

Throughout their Fellowship year, the school leaders explore leadership actions that help drive student and faculty success. The Washington trip helped the Fellows reflect upon the following practices in a different urban setting:

  • Setting clear expectations for excellent teaching and desired learning outcomes;
  • Recruiting and retaining outstanding staff and exiting ineffective staff; and
  • Developing teachers’ knowledge and skills through frequent teacher observation, actionable, feedback, and aligned professional development.


The DC school visitsimg_1413 offered Fellows a unique window into successful leadership practices at schools serving similar student populations to those they serve in Philadelphia. At Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School and Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, Fellows observed in multiple classrooms and discussed strategies for working intentionally and creatively to reduce the achievement gap. In addition, at Seaton Elementary School and the Columbia Heights Education Campus, Fellows were exposed to approaches to promoting excellent instruction and parent engagement.

The Fellows appreciated the opportunity to explore different schools in the company of colleagues. One commented, “Sharing the experience with other Fellows was beneficial, as was visiting the schools that we did. I think it’s important for us to get out of our buildings and see what is going on in other schools so that we can build on what we see.” Another added, “I appreciated the opportunity to leave Philly to visit another area with similar demographics who were getting results and meeting with success.”

The Fellows concluded their first day in Washington with a “Dinner with a Decision-Maker” –  an evening of leadership conversation with Maj. Robbins, facilitated by Antoinette Powell of Memphis Street Academy Charter School and BillGriffin of Hancock/Labrum School. The dinner discussion ranged from reflecting on how to shape organizational vision to ethical decision-making and creating trust as a leader.

The second day of the leadership trip began with a session to debrief the previous day’s school visits, drawing parallels to Fellows’ work in Philadelphia and promoting specific lessons the leaders can apply in their schools. Next, the Fellows visited the Holocaust Museum. Following this experience, School Leaders Executive Director Tim Matheney facilitated a reflection on the importance of integrating the museum experience with the Fellows’ school leadership. One Fellow remarked, “This visit was a reminder of the [imperative] to teach peace and justice. Thank you for these and other experiences with my Fellows. This time is priceless.”

dsc_0228In the final event of the trip, the Fellows met with veteran educational leader Billy Kearney. Billy led a discussion on how to develop a talent mindset to attract and retain great teachers. In small groups, Fellows had the chance to discuss ideas and solutions to the challenges they face in developing and retaining teachers. Conversation continued on the train ride home to Philadelphia as Fellows reflected on all of the experiences of the previous two days.

At the conclusion of the trip, 100% of participants agreed that the experience increased their commitment to serving as a school leader and remaining in Philadelphia education. One Fellow noted that the trip offered inspiration for re-examining school mission and professional development plans for the next school year, explaining “I want us to challenge ourselves to be more open to new ideas and strategies to improve student achievement.” Thanks to the generous support of the Neubauer Family Foundation, the Fellowship is exposing these talented school leaders to just such experiences.