Neubauer Fellows receive distinguished Blue Ribbon award

High expectations for students, a focus on learning, and highly professional staff are three characteristics that this year’s Philadelphia selections for National Blue Ribbon Schools clearly share. But there is yet another important shared characteristic: All three are led by members of this year’s cohort of Neubauer Fellows in Educational Leadership.

Blue Ribbon recipients Penn Alexander (led by Principal Michael Farrell), Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS; led by Principal Pheng Lim), and St. Mary Interparochial (led by Principal Jeanne Meredith) are among the 40 Philadelphia schools that are part of the Neubauer Fellowship family.  Blue Ribbon candidate schools may be nominated for achieving among the top 15% in their state or for making the fastest progress in closing the achievement gap.

The three Neubauer Fellows attribute much of their school’s success to the communities in and around their schools. Principal Farrell of Penn Alexander explained that it is important to “establish a true culture of learning for both students and adults.” Similarly, Principal Lim of FACTS explained, “Our cultural treasures are all the people who make up our school – students, families, community members, folk artist/educators, staff and teachers [and] we ask our students, staff and families to bring all of who they are to help form the social and cultural fabric of the school.”

Neubauer Fellows at Blue Ribbon Award Ceremony (Michael Farrell, Penn Alexander School; Pheng Lim, FACTS; Jeanne Meredith, St. Mary Interparochial)

During the intensive Neubauer Fellowship, participating principals are challenged to become collaborative and entrepreneurial school leaders with a strong mission and vision for their schools. Principal Meredith of St. Marys Interparochial, points to this as one of the key reasons her school was chosen for this honor: “I believe teachers, students, administration and parents know and believe in the mission of the school.” Principal Lim adds a similar note about how her school works to close the achievement gap in the “strong, thoughtful and caring” Callowhill neighborhood. “We educate with a social justice lens; we listen with our hearts and voice ourselves with pride and purpose; and we hope our students will do the same.”

Despite their pride in the Blue Ribbon distinction, the three Neubauer Fellows are still driving improvement in their schools.  Principal Farrell hopes to leverage the Blue Ribbon honor by partnering with the Penn Alexander staff to “focus on our students on the margins, our Special Education (students), English as Second Language Learners, to ensure we are both meeting our kid’s needs and maximizing their potential.” Principal Lim, who had students write letters thanking their parents, offered her hopes for the future of her school, “I hope to be part of a broader conversation among school leaders about the importance of dedicating time to building social and emotional skills among students and about the importance of welcoming the cultures, traditions, and languages of our students and their families into our schools.”

The Neubauer Fellowship is an initiative of the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders, which receives generous support from the Neubauer Family Foundation. Tim Matheney, executive director of School Leaders, praised the hard work at the Fellows’ schools. “Jeanne, Michael, and Pheng are humble, hard-working, exemplary school leaders who are not only great role models for the other 37 Neubauer Fellows, but for all principals in Philadelphia. We celebrate these richly-deserved honors with them, their teachers and their school communities.”