Life at Mastery : In the News : Mastery principal chosen as Dept. of Education ambassador

Mastery principal chosen as Dept. of Education ambassador

Sunday, December 15 2013. By Wilford Shamlin III

Sharif El-Mekki has been selected to serve as one of three new Principal Ambassador Fellows who will provide “feedback, insight, and direction” to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on federal education policies and their impact on schools.

El-Mekki is principal of Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus, which is part of a nonprofit charter school network that run 15 schools with a combined K-12 enrollment of more than 9,500 students. He will serve in his new advisory role through the summer with two other fellows who lead schools in Washington, D.C. and Chattanooga, Tenn.

“It’s a tribute to the school and staff that something like this materializes,” El-Mekki said. “Principals get opportunities like this when their staff is amazing and students are being successful. It’s not often people have the opportunity to learn from the U.S. DOE at that level, with that type of access, and that type of voice.”

Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools, said El-Mekki was a solid choice as Principal Ambassador Fellow.

“Principal El-Mekki has shown that strong school leadership can drive student achievement,” Gordon said in a statement. “We are excited for him to share our lessons learned and influence policy for the benefit [of] children nationally. We are very proud of Principal El-Mekki.”

Three fellows were chosen from 450 applicants from principals from district, charter and private schools across the country. The program, in its inaugural year, recognizes the role of principal in “every aspect of a school’s success, from instruction to the school environment to staff performance,” and allows education policymakers to tap that expertise and talent, according to the Department of Education.

El-Mekki said he was left with a favorable impression after working last weekend with the other two fellows.

“They’re very bright, energetic and have a lot of great ideas. I’m really looking forward to working with them, and Secretary Duncan, and not only to learn, but share our insight. I think there’s opportunity to do both,” El-Mekki said.

El-Mekki said he anticipates comparisons between student performance in public schools and charter schools to continue in the months ahead but, he said, the public would be better served by finding common ground rather than focusing on issue that tend to be divisive.

He has worked for traditional public schools and charter schools, and he is guided by one question: “Do we have equity and access for students?”

Similarly, El-Mekki said Duncan is more concerned about helping students obtain a high-quality education and less concerned about whether a particular school functions as a public or charter school.

El-Mekki said Duncan expressed a strong interest in the process of setting up schools for success. “He really wants to hear how families and communities are creating movements to demand more. He wants to know if it’s happening and if not, why not, ” he said.

The fellows also will help the Education Department answer the question, “What do schools need to be successful?”

Other hot topics in education include setting higher academic standards at state and federal level, greater accountability for school staff, and establishing a national exam that will allow comparison between states. El-Mekki also said there will be a focus on how to better prepare students to pursue higher education, develop a career path, and engage in lifelong learning.

According to Mastery Charter, 10 schools were designated as turn-around schools, which have seen dramatic improvements in test scores along with significant declines in violence and student turnover.

Contact staff writer Wilford Shamlin III at (215) 893-5742 or